Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

29th November

I awoke to a sharp frost this morning. Temperatures had hit minus 5 overnight but, like yesterday, the sky was blue and the wind calm. It felt like proper, midwinter, and the first stop was the patch, which was due a thorough check. Inspired by recent, local wildfowl records, I stopped to scan Mill Pond first. The northern end was frozen, but the rest of the water was rammed with Ducks and Geese, notably Canada Geese, of which 23 was the second highest count of the year. This species is infrequent on Mill Pond, and they were joined by 4 Greylags.

The female Red-crested Pochard on Mill Pond this morning
The number of Teal has been rising steadily these past few weeks, and today's count of (at least) 41 was the highest of this winter so far. A few drakes were displaying, and beyond them were several Shoveler, a largely sleeping flock of 15+ Tufted Ducks and probably over 60 Mallards. The number of ducks lead me to retrieve my telescope from the boot, and give the water a quick scan. As I did so, a pair of Gadwall revealed themselves before, much to my surprise, as did a female Red-crested Pochard. They are exceptionally rare here (my November 13th blog post goes into much more detail) and this bird was surely the same one that I found on Bramley Park Lake on the aforementioned date a couple of weeks ago. Presumably she has stayed local since the 13th, and her typically shy behaviour this morning demonstrated perhaps why I haven't noted her in my intervening visits.

The new path leading to the Ridge
She seemed to prefer the vegetated sides of the lake, and her journey from one to another across the open water was quick, before she was easily lost in the trees and roots. The habitat on Mill Pond actually looks decent for Red-crested Pochard, so perhaps she will stick. There are a handful of off-limits, private ponds between here and Bramley Park Lake, and I wouldn't be surprised if she's spent much of her time there. Continuing to Winkworth, in search of another rare duck, was fruitless - it was dead there, and so I decided to climb up the Ridge. A new footpath has been constructed along the Slade's/Rowe Barn Farm boundary, offering slightly obscured views of the former. It's somewhat of a shame, but I have to say the viewing isn't anywhere as limited as I was worried it was going to become. 

The light on the Ridge was brilliant, and a large party of Linnets chattered and wheezed on the southern facing crop. A few Reed Buntings and a single Brambling where also of note here, and 3 Common Gulls flew south. Numbers of these will rise as winter goes on. I still await a Woodcock on the patch this year - now is optimum time, and a search solely for this species in Leg-of-Mutton Copse on the 25th didn't produce the goods (a couple of Crossbill was a nice record though, only the 3rd of the year). As I headed back down, about 10 rather unseasonal Meadow Pipits dropped in, but in general it was rather quiet, so it was onto Frensham Great Pond where I had a target bird to try and locate.

The Frensham Long-tailed Duck
On Sunday remarkable news of an immature Long-tailed Duck, found by Frensham stalwart patch-watcher Shaun Peters, had emerged, and the bird proved popular that day. I had work preventing me from going, as well as a distinct lack of enthusiasm for county listing these days However, given the scarcity of this bird in Surrey, the closeness of it to home and the fact it's a duck, lead me to ambitiously try a pre-dawn trip before work on Monday. A dead Guillemot, even more of a surprise than the duck, had been seen by David Campbell the day before, but before the sun came up I had to settle for poor views of the Long-tailed from the hotel, as well as a drake Goosander, before heading off to work. It was there that I learnt about a redhead Smew at the same site - I was gutted I'd missed it, but with today off I was up for trying to relocate it, a decision not too tough to make given the species position as my favourite bird.
Wisely remaining hidden

Alas, I couldn't find the Smew today, nor the Goosander, but the Long-tailed Duck performed very well indeed, my girlfriend and I enjoying fairly close views and an opportunity to photograph the bird from the east shore. An Aythya hybrid, presumably a Pochard x Tufted, had me pondering for a while, and a Water Rail could be heard squealing from the reeds. It would be rude to not end the day without a final duck species (10 in total today) so we visited the lonely gentleman in the last photo before heading home! A dusk check on Mill Pond confirmed the Red-crested Pochard was still present.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Northern France & the Netherlands - day 3

Bar-headed Geese at Kade, Zevenhoven
This is the second of 3 blog posts covering my trip to northern France and the Netherlands from 16th-19th November 2016. A full trip report can be found here, on Cloud Birders.

Day 3 - Zuid-Holland & Amsterdam


Tundra Bean Geese, part of a group of 60
On the last day I had 3 targets left, for which I had sites for 2. We were heading to Amsterdam, where one of them was waiting, and I had received gen for Bar-headed Goose late the night before. Black Swan, I had written off. The Bar-heads had been reported in Zevenhoven, in the far north of Zuid-Holland. It was very much en route to Amsterdam, and so we could afford to have one last shot at this species. The Zevenhoven area, like Die Biesbosch yesterday, surprised me in it's attraction. A network of fields, lakes and marshes were home to some spectacular houses. There can't be many nicer places to live, and the number of birds were high. Loads of Geese and Ducks were seen (including, weirdly, a Wood Duck pair), and as we followed the GPS to a farm adjacent to the river Kromme Mijdrecht. Right in front of us, were 8 Bar-headed Geese, resting with 2 Mute Swans. Easy enough, and a relief after missing out yesterday.


The drake American Wigeon at Snel en Polanen
We moved on quickly, driving through this delightful area. A Marsh Harrier was the only one of the trip, and plenty of Great White Egrets were seen, before a colossal flock of Grey Geese caught my eye from a raised road we were on. We pulled over, and a scan made it clear most were White-fronts, with a good number of Greylags. However, the birds right at the front weren't, and it soon became clear about 60 Tundra Bean Geese were also present. They were a welcome surprise, and the 10th Goose species of the trip. We continued our journey to Amsterdam, passing 3 more Bar-headed Geese in Mijdrecht on the way.


2 Alexandrine Parakeets at Vondelpark
The first stop in Amsterdam was Oosterpark, one of 3 urban parks where my next quarry was supposedly easy to find. The squawking of several Ring-necked Parakeets raised my hopes, but ultimately I found nothing different here, as the rain began to fall heavily. It was then on to Vondelpark, a beautiful place, and straight away a large Parakeet caught my eye. It landed, and the bright, heavy beak stood out. I made out the pink shoulder patch, and clearly was looking at my first Alexandrine Parakeet. These birds breed in a few places in the Netherlands, and I saw several more in Vondelpark, their call and size the most obvious feature. With the second tick of the day in the bag, we enjoyed Amsterdam for several hours. 


The Black Swan at Nationaal Park Die Biesbosch
As we began our journey back down, news broke first of an American Wigeon, just 19 minutes off the motorway, and then, remarkably, of a Black Swan back at Die Biesbosch. We had time to try for both. The first port of call was Snel en Polanen, where the drake American Wigeon was sleeping quite close to the shore. I took in some nice views, as a small crowd assembled. Presumably this is quite a record for the Netherlands, but with time against us we had to make haste, and continue south, back to Die Biesbosch. 


Chilean and Greater Flamingoes at Batenoord
With another GPS courtesy of Waarneming, we pulled up at a flooded field, and there it was, a single Black Swan with 62 Mutes. Finally, all the trip targets were in the bag. 2 White-tailed Eagles had been reported here this morning too, and with my girlfriend keen to see them we stuck around, but couldn't wait too long before we continued heading back. The journey back to Calais included a few nice birds - a flock of Avocet, a weird, mixed Flamingo flock at Batenoord (including Greater and breeding Chilean), another Hen Harrier and a female Merlin near Haringvliet. The latter proved to be the 100th bird of what had been an excellent trip.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Northern France & the Netherlands - day 2

This is the second of 3 blog posts covering my trip to northern France and the Netherlands from 16th-19th November 2016. A full trip report can be found here, on Cloud Birders.

Day 2 - Netherlands: Zuid-Holland, Noord-Brabant & Utrecht provinces
Zuid-Holland in a bird - Barnacle Geese, in the 10's
of 1000's, these ones at Oudeland van Strijen

After a largely non-birding day on the Thursday, Friday 18th was when I'd scheduled to see most of my targets, including the main one, Lesser White-fronted Goose. Thus, we started not long after dawn at the site for this rare species, the captivating Oudeland van Strijen polder fields, a little more than 12 miles SW of Dordrecht, in Zuid Holland. Polders are areas of low-lying land, reclaimed from the sea or a river, and protected by artificial channels. They're characteristic of the Netherlands. Indeed, when we arrived, the typical Dutch winter birding scene was spread out in front of me, as far as the eye could see. Tens upon tens of thousands of wintering Geese, predominately Barnacle, fed in the patchwork of fields, their yelping calls filling the air. 

The other most populous Goose here was White-fronted, of which there were at least a few thousand. 3 other Geese speciess and many dabbling ducks were also viewable almost everywhere, with big numbers of Mute Swans, Grey Herons, Curlews, Lapwings and at least 10 Great White Egrets. Approaching from the village of Strijen, to the east of the polders, I didn't really know how to begin my needle-in-a-haystack search for the Lesser White-fronts. I decided to methodically work my way around the entire area, before cutting through a north-south track, Vlaamseweg, in the middle, checking each flock of Geese. The magic of the area was pushing me on, and the first hour flew by. The problem with the polders is the unevenness - the many dykes and ditches mean distant Geese can disappear easily, making targets even harder to pick out. 

The drake Bufflehead at Barendrecht
By about 10 o'clock it became clear this was not going to be an easy job. It was very hard to pull myself away, but I decided that it would make sense to move on, and try again later. With Geese still flying in from roost, I figured another thorough search in the afternoon was the best idea, and we headed north to Barendrecht, where the next target of the day was located. Remarkably, the drake Bufflehead on Gaatkens Plas, at Koedood, was back for his 13th winter, and had been reported fairly consistently in recent days. This smart duck has been accepted as wild by the Dutch authorities, and only a few minutes after pulling up we were looking at the Bufflehead, as it dived and displayed with a small flock of Tufted Ducks along the southern shore. This was the easiest bird of the trip, and after enjoying some fantastic views we had a bite to eat in the car, before heading back past Dordrecht, to the Zuid-Holland/Noord Brabant border, with the next target ready to be looked for.


Great White Egrets were common
- over 40 were seen on the 18th
The Nationaal Park De Biesbosch is a habitat like nothing I have seen before. Situated on the eastern side of the Hollands Diep river, it's one of the last extensive areas of freshwater tidal wetlands in Northwestern Europe. For miles and miles, flooded fields, small networks of rivers, partially sunken forests, wet grassland and reeds could be seen, with a simply huge amount of birds present. As with seemingly everywhere in the Netherlands, access is easy, and you could drive through this marvelous area, a simple car ride turning into a avian safari. The cast was similar to Strijen, though with many more ducks and a staggering amount of Mute Swans, with at least 150 present. However, my main target here was a category C bird, Black Swan, with a family party reported a couple of times in the past week. However, despite cruising through the entire area we had no joy, but this disappointment was completely wiped away by the stunning scenery and cast of birds. 2 ringtail Hen Harriers were a nice treat, with good views roadside, and nearby the only Water Pipits of the trip were feeding in the grass. It would have been nice to spend the day here, but I had other targets, and after 2 'dips' the pressure was on, as we made our way east to Culemborg.


One of the Ringtail Hen Harriers at De Biesbosch
Another category C bird was the target, this time Bar-headed Goose. In Josh Jones' 2015 report he mentioned a flock of 73 birds along the River Lek here, with the species said to be populous along this stretch of water. After a 50 minute drive we pulled up on a road that overlooked the river, but to my disappointment I could see no Bar-heads, just Barnacles and White-fronts. Naively, I was confident I would see this species here, and hadn't researched a back up site, much like I had with the Black Swans. I began to worry that I would perhaps miss out on 2 species, far from ideal, and it became clear the need to check Waarneming.nl for the most recent sightings would be crucial for landing the birds I needed, bar a stroke of luck. After a quick check further up the river valley we decided to head back to Oudeland van Strijen, where it was time to really hammer the Geese. As we were driving back, news came through of one of the wintering Red-breasted Geese there, and I was determined to pick that individual out too.


Oudeland van Strijen - flat, vast, and uneven habitat
makes hard birding
A couple of roadside White Storks were a nice surprise on the ride back, and we got to Oudeland van Strijen at about 14:15. I had only a couple of hours, maximum, to find the Lesser White-fronts, and I decided to try and find the Red-breasted Goose first of all. The bird had been reported to the west of the Vlaamseweg track, in a big, bumpy polder called Dwarsche Vaart. After a couple of pull ins and scans along the Vlaamseweg, at the third one I decided to get the scope out, and work my way through what must have been at least 300 each of Barnacle and White-fronted Geese. I could see nothing of note, but when I looked even further, beyond the flocks, the clear colours of a Red-breasted Goose filled by telescope view! The bird was far off, and feeding behind a metal gate with Barnacles, and I had just a couple of minutes with it before showing my girlfriend. The deceptive nature of the polder then came through, as the Goose vanished, seemingly into a dyke. It wasn't seen again, but I was now strongly motivated to find the main trip target.

We moved further up the track, and I scanned a big flock of White-fronts. As I moved the scope to the right, 5 Geese shot to my attention. Having tried to turn a few White-fronts into Lessers earlier in the day, these birds had me pretty sure from the off, with the extensive white blaze over the crown, the short stubby bill, slightly darker colour and size very clear. Any effects the biting wind had soon evaporated as the adrenaline kicked in. I wanted to nail the eye-ring, to be sure, and after finally managing to hold the scope steady I could see it clearly, certainly on the 3 right-hand birds. Finally, Lesser White-fronted Geese! Amazed, relieved, and delighted, I beckoned my girlfriend over, and she attempted a few phone-scope shots of the right hand birds. The 2 others had seemingly vanished, and after watching the 3 for a few minutes, suddenly, they took flight. They landed not far to the west, but after about 10 minutes of trying to relocate them, I gave in, still over the moon to have got a bird I had desired for a very long time. This was proper birding - picking a species out among thousands if similar ones, in a vast and testing habitat. 


A pointless picture, but of a birding
moment that will live long in the memory -
3 of the 5 Lesser White-fronted Geese
Remarkably, 22 we reported later in the day. This remains the highest figure reported all winter, and by some distance, so it certainly seems a little odd. These extremely rare birds are from the Swedish reintroduction programme, but with Dutch wintering numbers surpassing the amount of birds in Sweden, clearly others are coming from somewhere. I was chuffed to have seen them, and with little sunlight left we decided to head to the far south of the polders, where a Bar-headed Goose had been reported earlier in the week. We had no joy, but the thrill of getting the main target certainly outweighed any disappointment of missing the category C birds. When we got in, fortune seemed to shine down on me, as I learnt of a flock of 13 Bar-headed Geese on the way to Amsterdam, where we were headed tomorrow. I would have a final chance with these birds. Another target was waiting for me in the Dutch capital, but it seemed Black Swan was going to be very hard to get.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Northern France & the Netherlands - day 1

This is the first of 3 blog posts covering my trip to northern France and the Netherlands from 16th-19th November 2016. A full trip report can be found here, on Cloud Birders.

Day 1 - Foret d'Hesdin


The moon over Foret d'Hesdin
The first full day of the trip was to include little birding, with only an hour or so scheduled in the Foret d'Hesdin, in Nord Pas de Calais, from dawn. We awoke in the small town of Hesdin, about 64 miles south-east of Calais, and after wolfing down a couple of pastries from the local boulangerie were heading up into the west side of the forest. This 1014 hectare, predominantly Beech woodland habitat was home to my one and only target of the day, and my only one that wasn't to be found in the Netherlands - Reeve's Pheasant.

This spectacular Chinese introduction is on category C of the French list, and the species breeds in Foret d'Hesdin, though birds are released here too. With Josh Jones' specific directions at hand, we parked by the gate on the western entrance track, and climbed up into the forest. Dew was still on the undergrowth, which was expansive, and the mist was lifting off the trees. The sound of finches filled the autumn air - huge numbers of Chaffinches, Siskins and Bramblings could be heard in the tree tops, with many Thrushes and Woodpigeons also present.

5 of the 8 male Reeve's Pheasants seen 
Walking up the track produced not a single Pheasant, not even a Common, and so we decided to deviate off the main path and deeper into the woods. Still, we had not a whiff of a gamebird, though some distinctive ticking high in the Beech trees above me indicated a Hawfinch, which I managed to lock eyes on. A few more of these enigmatic finches were heard in the following hour. Frustratingly, we headed back to the main track, and I continued the path east. As I approached a bend, a rather upright Pheasant came into view, and it wasn't long before I had my binoculars on a female Reeve's Pheasant. She stood, partially obscured by leaves, partially by mist, and as I began to approach she took off into the trees, much unlike a Common Pheasant.

These birds were confiding - the skulky individuals
in the deeper forest were probably wild-bred
Encouraged, I continued east, and a young plantation on the south side of the track revealed 2 stunning male birds. I slowly followed them into the young trees, and found 4 females, all very wary and quick to skulk away. A calling Crested Tit was a nice sueprise here. Delighted with the success, we grabbed the car and drove up the track, beyond the plantation, clocking up 2 more birds (a male and female) before stopping at a crossroads. Remarkably, here we found 5 males in the southbound track, showing wonderfully and just a few feet from the car. I managed several photos before leaving them to it, as we left Hesdin and France, moving into Belgium where we would stay the night.

Category C Pheasants aren't for everyone. Personally, seeing a Golden Pheasant in Norfolk last year was a wonderful moment. Either way, the next day would see the start of some proper winter birding, as I began my quest to see one of Europe's rarest waterbirds.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

13th November

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the beauty of patch birding for me is the unpredictability of it. Of course, most days patching in Surrey are pretty much the same. Monthly high counts and local movement can often be the highlight of a session, and largely I head out in hope over any real expectation. Today was one of those days. Indeed, I wasn't really heading out, I just had the opportunity to quickly drive through the west side of the patch and check out Mill Pond before work.

Best of a bad batch of photos of the Red-crested Pochard,
which was skulky and hard to view
In my last post I mentioned my visit to Buckinghamshire for an inland Velvet Scoter, and after chatting to leading Surrey lister Dave Harris last night I learnt of a female Goosander present for it's 3rd day less than a mile north of my patch, in Wonersh. Thus, ducks were on my mind this morning, and I decided to check out Bramley Park Lake as well as Mill Pond for a change. I don't visit Bramley Park Lake enough. It's owned by the Godalming Angling Society, and whilst popular with Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes, has never held too much (bar a Common Sandpiper that Sam Jones had a few years ago). The limited viewing area and awkward parking further puts me off, but I had visions of a Goosander of my own this morning, and headed down the muddy track at about 07:50.

The lake was misty, and 7 Cormorants up in the surrounding trees immediately caught my eye - a large count for my patch. Through the mist, which was heavy, I could see a large, brown-ish duck towards the south side. I got my bins on it, and couldn't believe I was looking at a female Red-crested Pochard! She was acting much like the numerous wild ones I saw in southern Spain in April did, skulking in and out of the waterside vegetation at the south end. This behaviour, coupled with being beyond the middle islands, made it hard to get prolonged views of her, and I managed just a couple of awful pictures through the mist.

The last Red-crested record - my first-ever bird log book,
documenting the drake at Winkworth in 1999!
Red-crested Pochards have an interesting history in my patch. The last known record was in September 1999, by myself, at Winkworth Arboretum. A pair actually bred on Rowe's Flashe for a few years in the mid-90's, with the last known success in 1997 (a brood of 6 on 21st May). My 1999 bird was a drake, and I am sure birds hung on there into the 2000's, but I can't find any records. Whatever their fate, my bird today was a total surprise, and seemingly a short-stayer as she wasn't seen again today despite 2 further searches.

Matt Phelps had been doing his WeBS count at Winkworth this morning, managing the first Water Rail of this winter back in Phillimore, and he stopped by Bramley Park Lake at about 08:50 but couldn't find the Red-crested Pochard. After work I had another lookm but also failed to find her. A number of fishermen were present though, and she may well have been flushed. At this time of year, clearly these secluded and seldom checked water bodies are worth a look. I still hope for my Goosander, but today's bird was enough of a treat.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

10th November

After a productive session last Thursday, the week since has been fairly quiet on the patch. On the 5th, I was on the Ridge after dark to watch the local fireworks with my girlfriend. Unfortunately, there were to be no flyover Geese or Swans - only a Tawny Owl and a couple of Redwings. Earlier in the day the first Common Gull of the winter flew over Allden's Hill, but apart from some Gadwall and Shoveler on Mill Pond, not much has been seen. Today was particularly slow-going, with a few Herring Gulls east and 16 Meadow Pipits south the only movement of note between 08:00-09:30.

Red Kite over the Ridge today
The best part of the morning was the opportunity to catch up with Luke, the Thorncombe Park gamekeeper, who I'd not seen for some months. We discussed what I'd seen recently, and how the scarcer breeders had got on during the summer, before he casually told me about a female Goshawk that he'd seen twice in recent weeks. Remarkably, he saw her plucking the feathers off a recently killed Woodpigeon near the Ridge on 30th October, and speculated as to where she'd come from, based on where he had heard the birds breed locally. I certainly trust Luke's ID skills, for a number of reasons and past moments. When I asked whether it may have been a female Sparrowhawk he chuckled, saying it was definitely a Gos, and when he initially approached the bird he thought it was a Buzzard.

Goshawks do seem to be on the slight increase as breeders in Surrey, and in general throughout the country. I had my first good vice-county views last year at one site, and a male at a different one twice this spring. I wouldn't be surprised if this female came from either location, and hopefully she will show herself again this winter. There is certainly a healthy supply of Woodpigeons and Corvids for her. My only 2 previous sightings on my patch were of birds passing through (including a female in March this year), and on both occasions I had been alerted to them by Matt, who had given me the heads up as they flew over Winkworth.

Drake Velvet Scoter at Dorney Lake, Bucks
With the rest of the patch as quiet as the Ridge had been, I decided to make the 45-minute journey to Buckinghamshire, where a couple of notable records for the county had caught my eye. I think any inland patch birder considers a seabird almost the holy grail of self-finds. Personally, the idea of a lost Skua or Gannet drifting over the Ridge, or a grounded Auk or Petrel on Mill Pond, thrills me, and I touched on this in my last post. Whilst not quite on that level, a Velvet Scoter inland is still a fine record - the last in Surrey was 6 years ago.

Buckinghamshire, remarkably, had it's 5th and 6th record of this sea-duck in the last few days, and the closeness to home and showiness of 1 bird at Dorney Lake, near Windsor, was enough to tempt me. I have seen this species a few times before, but never much more than just about making out a white splodge on a whirring black bird, far out to sea. Thus, it was remarkable to be a few feet from this extremely lost young male bird, looking very out of place among the motley collection of dabbling ducks and Geese in the middle of a rowing lake. It's records like this that help fuel the patch motivation.

2015 report

The 2015 Thorncombe Street & Winkworth Arboretum bird report is available to read, for free, via this hyperlink. Hard copies are still available too.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

3rd November

I have been lucky enough to enjoy 2 days off at a time when the weather has been beautiful. Crisp, sunny autumn days are quite stunning on the patch, though today was notably colder, with a frost spread out across the fields when I got to Rowe Barn Farm at 08:30 this morning.

Slade's Farm this morning
The sky was clear, and it became immediately apparent it was perfect conditions for another Woodpigeon day. I clocked over 1000 yesterday (nothing compared to the 120,000+ over Cardiff!), and today fell only a few hundred short from my arrival to around 13:30. As I climbed up the path to the Ridge big numbers of Redwings chattered quietly in the holly bushes, but there was no Ring Ouzel here today, after birds here yesterday and Monday. 3 Herring Gulls drifted south as I reached the top, my eyes drawn quickly to the large number of Buntings and Finches on the crops at the summit.

It looks like this winter will again host big numbers of seed-eaters on the Ridge, and the amount had risen since yesterday by a fair bit. In total I logged 7 species - 50+ Linnet, 15+ Reed Bunting, 30+ Chaffinch, 1 Bullfinch, c.25 Siskin, 10+ Goldfinch and 2 Lesser Redpoll (both flying south). Hopefully it won't be long until the Bramblings and Yellowhammers join them, and I really hope to find something special here this winter. Surely a Lapland Bunting, or Mealy Redpoll will drop in, it's just a case of putting in the hours and getting lucky, as the birds are all pretty mobile and hard to pin down.
A female Reed Bunting on the Ridge

Above me, movement was fairly quiet, bar a couple more Herrings, some Meadow Pipits, about 40 Fieldfare and the Pigeons. I dropped back down, and headed to Winkworth, where my first birds at Rowe's Flashe were a Grey Heron, an adult and juvenile Cormorant, 1 Grey Wagtail and 3 drake Tufted Ducks. At about 08:55 I heard what sounded like a distant Ring-necked Parakeet to the east. It called again, this time much closer, and before I could get my hands on my binoculars the bird flashed noisily over my head, strongly west. This was a very welcome surprise - patch tick 113 of the year, leaving me just 1 short of my record 114.

The south-facing sacrificial crop looks perfect for Buntings
and Finches - bring on the Twite & Lapland Longspurs!
Interestingly, it seems there has been a notable Ring-necked Parakeet dispersal during the past few days. Tice's Meadow had only their 5th record this morning, and I was pleased to learn of a bird near Wintershall, on my bit, yesterday, via Phillip Lowden, who also had 2 over Shamley Green last week. Parakeet's remain very rare this south of the county, with only 2 on my patch last year. The Thorncombe park gamekeeper has seen a couple before, but the historic total is surely less than 10. I doubt they will remain scarce for that long.

Continuing through Winkworth plenty more Thrushes, Tits and Woodpeckers were noted, and a male Blackcap feeding on Sorbus Hill was a surprise. From here, it was on to Gate Street Farm, where the plan was to walk from there through Wintershall, Great Brook and Juniper Hill to Hascombe, where we would have lunch at the White Horse. A couple of Marsh Tit's let off their distinctive call in Great Brook, and a Red Kite flew over Juniper Hill. However, the best bird was yet another Ring Ouzel, this one almost certainly a 1st-winter bird. It perched in a dead blackthorn bush for about 30 seconds before flying SW with a few continental Blackbirds and Redwings.
A flock of Woodpigeons over the Ridge

Ring Ouzels are rare, but regular autumn visitors here. This week has seen all 3 records for 2016, and last year this species was also fairly late in passing through. A Tawny Owl began calling as we headed through Juniper Hill, where a Firecrest called from deep within some holly. I tried unsuccessfully for Woodcock here, and with the sun still beaming we dropped down into Hascombe, and out of the patch boundary.

Hascombe village pond - once host to a Puffin
A couple of Little Grebes were present on the village pond, and I day-dreamed briefly about a crazy 19th-century record of a Puffin on this very water. A patch seabird would be true gold (indeed platinum), and I live in hope that I will get lucky one day. This autumn is enough inspiration, with a probable Pomarine Skua over Blackdown on October 1st, and today a Little Auk at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire (granted near the sea) for a few hours.

Monday, 24 October 2016

24th October

Again, there has been a fair gap between this and my last post. I haven't managed to get out on the patch quite as much as I'd hoped this autumn, particularly compared to last year. In 2015, September and October yielded 8 year ticks - so far I am on just 3 for those months. Tree Pipit (a patch first record) and Osprey (a patch tick for me, only the second known record) both came on the same day in early September, so I guess I feel a little underwhelmed having only added Wigeon (an eclipse drake at Rowe's Flashe on 1st October) since.

I managed no Whinchats, Redstarts or, as of yet, Ring Ouzels, the latter one I really expected to see by now. I spent most of my time on the patch today hopefully listening for a Yellow-browed Warbler, after a flurry of Surrey records in recent weeks. Alas, I didn't chance upon one, these birds becoming mere footnotes in Shetland earlier this month (that trip will merit a report of its own at one point) such was the frequency of finding them. It seems I have missed a mega this autumn - I write this on the one-year anniversary of Matt Phelps' and my Little Bunting over the Ridge!

Having parked up by the gate at the start of the New Barn path after work, it became immediately apparent that a number of birds were present in the trees that flank the east side of the track. Beech seeds, horse chestnuts and holly berries littered the floor, and the calls of various Thrushes, finches and Tits whispered, buzzed and chattered, largely out of view. A few Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests suddenly appeared, but my call-playing and ear-straining could't pick out a Yellow-browed with them. The number of finches dropping down from the Beech tree had caught my eye, seemingly all Chaffinches, and I was surprised not to note at least one Brambling, having had a few back on the patch in recent days.

One large finch flashed between the leaves high up and, moments later, a heavy 'tick' gave up the presence of a Hawfinch, typically elusive and hard to see. I managed 2 more glimpses but nothing elongated (there could have been more than one), and the birds eventually flushed when I headed south down the path about 10 minutes later. A nice record, and pretty much over the road from Great Brook, where I had 2 birds on February 6th. I have no idea if these birds have come from far (Scandinavia) or close (Chiddingfold woods), but there was a bird at Blackdown, near Haslemere, yesterday, so perhaps there has been some recent movement. I picked up a calling Marsh Tit here too, but couldn't relocate the Hawfinch on the way back.

Happier times - the Mill Pond Mutes during the summer of 2014
Despite this pleasing record, today confirmed some very sad patch news. Since the 1950's, Mute Swans have resided on Mill Pond. In recent years they have always nested successfully, but last year the nest was predated twice by Foxes. For some reasons the Swans had nested close to land, and they did again this year. Unsurprisingly, they failed, and I last saw them both on the water on August 11th. From here, the situation seems odd. On the 13th, the male was on the road, being shepherded off by two gardeners. I was in a moving car, and never learnt the outcome. From then, only the female remained on the water, with no sign of her mate. On the 18th she was present, but then vanished, Mill Pond empty of its white residents for the first time in my memory.

Oddly, I had 2 over the Ridge on 8th September, but these were almost certainly not the local pair. I assumed they had simply relocated until, on October 6th, the female was back on Mill Pond. There was no sign of the male during the following weeks, and she was last seen there by my girlfriend (who took great interest in this story!) on Wednesday 12th, when I was in Shetland. Since I got back, I have not seen her, but on Friday, tragically, I noticed what was almost certainly a floating body of a Swan on the far south side. The body was still there today, and it truly seems like it's the end of the Mill Pond Mutes. What actually happened, particularly with the male, I will never know, and Mute Swan will no doubt become an extremely hard bird to get on the patch.

Anyway, I may still manage Ring Ouzel (I had a November 5th bird last year), and Woodcock is still to be seen, as 2016 winds to an end. What's certain is another chance to add to my Western Palearctic list, with a Low Countries November trip and an Arctic Circle adventure in December offering potential for snow specialists and Category C wonders!