Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

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Monday, 13 May 2019

South-west Surrey big day

Sam J and I have mooted a ‘Godalming area’ big day for a while. Both from the town, we have a fondness for the various local sites in this part of the county. Eventually, we decided to go for it, and Saturday opened up as an opportunity to do it. Instead of the Godalming area, we picked south-west Surrey, more or less as defined by the Surrey Bird Club (everything west of the A281 and south of the A31 – see below map). We chose, however, to include the Farnham area (everything west of the red line on said map) – while it’s north of the A31 boundary it’s very much in what one would deem south-west Surrey … it also meant we could include Tice’s Meadow!

South-west Surrey map (Surrey Bird Club).

With the Mole Valley Bird Race (where 90 is a decent score) as a loose barometer and acknowledging that a couple more waterbirds were on offer in our region, we set a target of 95 species. Kit, of recent Shalford fame, joined us and honourably offered to drive. We pulled up in the Moat car park at Thursley Common not long after 4.30 am, having already dipped Little Owl at a Milford site en route – we’d long been aware that the weather was forecast to be poor, but it really was grim here; fog and a chilly northwest wind wasn’t classic May weather.

Cuckoo was picked up from the car park and it wasn’t long before we bumped into the first bonus species of the day – Lesser Redpoll. Curlew soon followed, before Thursley patch watcher Dave B met us on the boardwalk. We then spent a thoroughly pleasant hour or so walking the common, tucking such useful fare as Tree Pipit, Dartford and Garden Warbler and Redstart under our belts. We hadn’t managed Woodlark here, but with plenty of other sites for this species all was not lost. I was also reminded me of why I love this site so much, even if I've hardly paid it any attention in recent times.

Redstart, Thursley Common, 11/5/2019.

Next up was Frensham Little Pond. Here we had two main targets: Kingfisher and Water Rail. The former proved easy but we couldn’t prize out the latter, and had to abandon with time of the essence. However, it was an entirely positive visit with Spotted Flycatcher and Sand Martin a bonus, as well as finally getting Woodlark, along with bits like Common Tern and Reed Warbler. We also scored Bullfinch – one of many species we saw at multiple sites that Sam was adamant would be tough prior to the day! Frensham bird finding machine Shaun P called with news of a brief Little Egret but we couldn’t get on it, a moment that’d come back to haunt us later.

Next up was the briefest of pit stops at the Great Pond – Gadwall cooperated nicely and we picked up Swift also. It was then onto Tice’s, where we had a couple of hours pencilled in to secure the regular waterbirds and – hopefully – a bonus wader or too. The long-staying first-winter Brent Goose was most welcome, and it wasn’t long before a selection of waders (including Common Sandpiper and Lapwing), along with Pochard and three gull species were on the day list. Unfortunately, the Black-tailed Godwit that had been around for a few days had done a bunk overnight, though we also added Sedge Warbler, amid the typically friendly welcome from the Tice’s regulars.

Brent Goose, Tice's Meadow, 11/5/2019.

We left here at about 10.45 am, pit-stopping at a couple of sites before heading to Binscombe for that rarest of south-west Surrey species: Lesser Whitethroat! I was delighted to discover a territorial male last weekend and it performed on cue again, though didn’t show well. Bizarrely, there is only one or two other sites that may hold this species in south-west Surrey. Anyway, it was on to Thorncombe Street for a few open country birds and hopefully a raptor or two.

Firecrest, 11/5/2019.

We sped up to Broomy Down and assumed position. Raven, Rook and Linnet were swiftly bagged, before Kit picked out a glorious Egyptian Goose tucked in with the White Storks – a near-perfect image. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t playing ball and indeed our visit to Broomy coincided with the worst weather of the day. A few weak showers had teased but suddenly the heavens opened not long after 1 pm. However, this unexpectedly delivered arguably bird of the day – a Whimbrel, powering north following the downpour.

Pleased with ourselves, we stocked up on coffee and food and headed to Allden’s Hill; the sun was back out and we wanted to give it a final go for raptors while enjoying our lattes. Sam managed to pick out a male Sparrowhawk – always a tricky big day bird – and so we moved on to a patch of farmland near Hambledon. For as long as I can remember, there’s a certain lay-by where you can pull in and see or hear Yellowhammer without barely setting foot outside the car. Despite the rain reappearing, the buntings delivered, and we logged three in total within minutes of getting there.

Yellowhammer, Hambledon, 11/5/2019.

With the afternoon getting long and the sun back out we knew we had to nail Hobby – we didn’t even need to reach the boardwalk at Thursley before we had a few of these charming falcons. We had a chat with a few Colin enthusiasts, papped a showy Redstart then sped to The Flashes, where we were after Siskin. None here, so on to Farnham Heath RSPB for Crossbill. It was my first time at this site and a flyover Siskin was most welcome, though we didn’t manage any Crossbills.

We still hadn’t had Nuthatch by this point, so we were relieved to chance upon a silent bird in some woodland near Waverley Abbey. We then drove past the water meadows at Wrecclesham looking for egrets – no joy. With a couple of hours of light left we were one species short of our target. We chose to give Tice’s another go, but unfortunately couldn’t pluck out any new birds. In a bit of a panic, we bolted back east to Thorncombe Street. After the Whimbrel gift earlier, could the old girl sort us out again?

Tree Pipit, Farnham Heath RSPB, 11/5/2019.

Of course she could. We pulled up at Snowdenham Mill Pond and were all elated to see the female Red-crested Pochard at the far end. This easy collection to the list meant we had a bit of time to go hunting for Marsh Tit. There are a few sites on patch that are reliable for this species, but Winkworth is generally the best – we soon had one in Furze Field. 96 was a great tally. We’d sacked off Nightjar hunting in the early hours due to the inclement weather overnight but, with the wind in our sails – while no-one dared mention it – we were all thinking of the holy grail hundred haul.

Redstart, Thursley Common, 11/5/2019.

We tried in vain for Barn and Little Owl at some sites near Dunsfold, before steaming back east, to Crooksbury Common. No Nightjars had been recorded back in Surrey yet so we were delighted to have a couple within minutes of getting out the car. A roding Woodcock took us to 98 … Tawny Owl would surely be a certainty at some point soon, meaning we only needed another owl species. Full of motivation, we ploughed onto a Little Owl site near Peper Harrow. None of us had been here for about a decade, so when a Little Owl appeared almost instantly we were over the moon.

With a couple of hours left we just needed to get Tawny Owl somewhere. We decided to try a couple of Barn Owl sites, hoping to pick up Tawny Owl in the background. We dipped at places like Shackleford and Littleton, before we realised that the clock was ticking. Tawny Owl suddenly became the priority and we tried at least five reliable sites – amazingly, we just couldn’t pick one up, and we surrendered at around 11.30 pm, some 19 or so hours after we’d started.

Marsh Tit, Winkworth Arboretum, 11/5/2019.

The disappointing finish took the edge of a superbly fun day, which had been matched by a wonderful final count of 99 species. In many ways it was comparable to Liverpool’s domestic season which concluded the following day – near-perfect, getting basically every point required and also enjoying a good deal of fortune, but somehow not making it over the line (although having passed 95 we technically did) at the end of the day. However, looking back now it was a great effort and, to be honest, we’ll do well to match it next year!

Finally, a word to the folk who helped us out – we wouldn’t have got close to that haul without fantastic gen from several birders. Jeremy provided some wonderful information, so a big thanks there. Dave at Thursley and Shaun at Frensham were invaluable both before and on the day, as were the Tice’s gang – chiefly Rich H, Rich S and Mark. Finally, thanks to Ray B for some local gen. Bring on next year.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Bank holiday songsters

Last year the Early May Bank Holiday felt like high summer, with temperatures reaching 24 Celsius amid blue skies and a dearth of migrants. This year it was quite the opposite, at times akin to late winter with a chilly northerly dominating and even a sharp frost on Sunday morning. Thankfully however the birding wasn’t too bad, though given this period is prime time for the inland birder a little frustration at the conditions is justified. 

Wheatear, Bonhurst Farm, 4/5/2019.

I was able to get out on Thursday morning in far more agreeable conditions. Birdsong was everywhere and all the classic summer visitors were in voice. I’ve always thought Nightingale should be one of those songsters at Thorncombe Street but, despite breeding less than a mile to the east of the site, they are rare here. So, when that sweet familiar sound powered into my ear drums at Palmers Cross I was delighted (video below).


Nightingale, Palmers Cross, 2/5/2019.

A little patch of scrub here has always felt ideal but this was only my third patch record of the species, and second spring singer. He was still giving it large on Monday so perhaps he’ll attract a mate; Nightingale bred here until the 1970s at least. Perhaps they’ll mount a comeback similar to the one at Anfield last night?

Sylvia warbler numbers seem to be through the roof this spring. Whitethroats are never common here but over the last few days I’ve logged a minimum of 10 territorial males – compare with 4 in 2015, 5 in 2016 etc. They had a great breeding season locally last year, helped by the heatwave. Blackaps are more abundant than ever and I’ve had Garden Warblers at new sites too. On the other hand, Chiffchaff numbers have been low (outnumbered by Whitethroat on Thursday, which is sensational) and Willow Warbler records have been totally wretched; a singing bird at Tilsey Farm on Monday was only my second on patch this year and fourth locally.

Firecrest, undisclosed, 2/5/2019.

Mandarin, Winkworth Arboretum, 4/5/2019.

Come Saturday morning thoughts of summer were paused with a cold stroll around the central and east sections increasingly uninspiring. My latest ever Brambling over Junction Field said it all. My luck changed, though, at Bonhurst Farm, where I finally got Wheatear on the patch year list. A female dropped out of the sky and proceeded to bop around the scrapyard and horse fields, feeding away.


Wheatear, Bonhurst Farm, 4/5/2019.

Other patch highlights over the weekend included the apparent nesting of Woodlarks and the continued presence of Yellowhammer: it’d be superb if these species successfully breed (in the case of the former it’d be borderline remarkable).

With migrants not really on the cards over the weekend I spent most of my time scouting for species ahead of the south-west Surrey big day coming up on Saturday. It was most enjoyable to be honest – I visited places I’d never been, ones I’d not gone to for years and more familiar local spots. I ended up finding sites for several hard species in the south-west, notably Lesser Whitethroat (which is curiously rare, this perhaps one of two breeding sites!), Lapwing and Siskin. At present, Barn and Little Owl and Kingfisher (!) seem set to pose problems (as might the weather).

Red-crested Pochard, Snowdenham Mill Pond, 6/5/2019.

Wren, Winkworth Arboretum, 2/5/2019.

Lesser Whitethroat, 5/5/2019.

The Hurtwood was shamefully a site tick for me but what a great spot – it was here I had a singing Siskin, but also Tree Pipits; I’d no idea the latter knocked about here. I popped into Unstead a few times over the weekend too. No Red-rumped Swallow among the 100+ House Martins on Saturday, but loads of warblers (including at least four Reed) on Monday.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Mallorca weekender

I was fortunate enough to attend a press trip in north Mallorca over the weekend, my first visit to the island. Ever keen to add to my Western Pally Tally, I was pleased to come away with four lifers, especially as we were limited in terms of where we could go, when and for how long. In time a formal report will appear, and as it wasn’t an independent trip (thus no Cloudbirders summary) this post will be a quick look at the key birds seen. In total, 88 species were logged, not bad for a day and a half in the field.



Balearic Warbler

Only recently elevated to full species, having previously been treated as a race of Marmora’s Warbler, this smart sylvia is endemic to the Balearic Islands (not found on Menorca). Thus, it’s the main attraction for visiting birders. The Boquer Valley is the famous site for them but, despite hearing a singing male, we didn’t connect here, probable due to visiting in the middle of the day.



However, we later visited Talaia d'Albercutx and were treated to great views of at least three males and a female around the base of the tower. Smart birds. A female Montagu’s Harrier drifted over here too.



Mediterranean Flycatcher

A recent split from Spotted Flycatcher (though perhaps not for long … ), I won’t lie: this isn’t a thriller. They were actually a lot harder than anticipated with loads of nominate Spot Flys moving through the island at the time. But, there were one or two individuals that seemed cold-toned enough, with limited breast and head streaking. Below is one example.




Eleanora’s Falcon

I’ve wanted to see this species ever since I picked up my first Collins. Unfortunately it was a little underwhelming, in that we saw just one bird, a seemingly tired and distant individual at Cap Formentor. Still, a tick, though I’ll be making future arrangements to see a bustling colony.



Moltoni’s Warbler

The fourth and final WP tick, but sadly no photos from me. This was a real jammy one as we didn’t visit the well-known Cuber Reservoir site. Instead, I fortuitously stumbled upon a skulking male at Albufereta, with two others getting on it.

Audouin’s Gull

Impressive beasts and super showy around Pollenca, even coming to frittata and olives in places!




Scopoli’s Shearwater

You can see the extensive white on the under primaries below. I’m seriously impressed by anyone who can nail this from a headland.




Other stuff


Kentish Plover, Pollenca.

Firecrest, Mortitx.

Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Mortitx.

Cirl Bunting, Mortitx.

Bonelli's Eagles, Mortitx.

Shearwater flock, Cap Formentor.

Balearic Shearwater, Cap Formentor.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

At long, long last

The past week has been pretty good. Compared to last year and spring, it’s been fantastic. In the last few days a range of migrants – both familiar and less so – have made their way into my notebook. Quite a lot to spill onto this post in fact, but I had to rewrite the title and reshuffle the order of things when I finally clapped eyes on the ultimate patch blocker this morning.

Common Sandpiper, Winkworth Arboretum, 24/4/2019.

Common Sandpipers are always nice to see, but probably don’t mean much to many birders. For me, however, it has long been the number one species on the Thorncombe Street Area list that has eluded me. To make matters worse, birding friends – some who’ve only visited a handful of times – had even seen the species here: Jeremy in the late 1980s with the first site record at Winkworth, then Sam at Bramley Park Lake in 2005 before Matt had two records involving no fewer than five birds in late April 2015.

So, between mid-April and mid-May (and again in autumn) ever since, I’ve paid many, many visits to the few appropriate water bodies in vain. None more so, however, than Winkworth. This morning the alarm went ever so early. Knowing I was out for the football later, I was close to hitting snooze, but I yanked myself out of bed and was at the arboretum not long later. Upon approaching the east shore I heard a familiar chattery whistle – Common Sandpiper!


Common Sandpiper, Winkworth Arboretum, 24/4/2019.

The little wader fluttered over to the west side and alighted on a tree stump, before bobbing away. I watched it for 20 minutes or so as it quietly surveyed its temporary place of rest on its journey to some flowing stream somewhere north of here. The local Coots seemed to take a disliking to it and it eventually headed to the buoys at the south end. I left it in peace. All those hundreds of visits to Rowes Flashe – which has delivered no better than Pochard before – were vindicated in one little sandy-brown spring bundle.

The Bank Holiday weekend had started well on Thursday, when a trio of new arrivals were logged on the regular loop from Great Brook, through New Barn to Tilsey Farm. First up was Whitethroat at New Barn, followed by a Cuckoo towards Curry Field. The icing on the cake was a Garden Warbler at Coldbourne Copse.

 
Garden Warbler, New Barn, 21/4/2019.

Spring has been good so far, with most species arriving at a usual time. My widening of coverage has doubtless helped (for my sanity if nothing else); a smart male Wheatear at Unstead later in the day on 18th a real delight to chance upon with Janet. Normally I’d be pulling my hair out at having not found one at Thorncombe Street … other spring arrivals at Unstead over the weekend included Reed Warbler (19th, bit of a surprise given the habitat), Sedge and Willow Warbler (22nd) and Whitethroat (18th).

Wheatear, Unstead SF, 18/4/2019.

Sedge Warbler, Unstead SF, 18/4/2019.

Friday 19th was warm and sunny. It wasn’t looking great for migrants, but with a breezy northerly increasing as the day went on migrating hirundines became a possibility. I positioned myself on Broomy Down and a small passage took place, including my first patch House Martins of the year as well as three Sand Martins – less than annual in spring here.

Red Kite, Broomy Down, 19/4/2019.

Given the weather, I was amazed to find a flock of 19 Fieldfare at Tilsey Farm that evening. There have been a few stragglers this year; Mark D had a few at Chadhurst Farm near Dorking the same day, and today Steve G had a few at Canons Farm, Banstead. At dusk I twitched Kit’s Gropper at Shalford (more of them to come).

Sand Martin, Broomy Down, 19/4/2019.

Fieldfares, Tilsey Farm, 19/4/2019.

Saturday was taken up by football, but I did see a Barn Owl quartering the Lammas Lands at Godalming at dawn. On 21st I paid a visit to Pagham Harbour before visiting my parents, completing a five-mile loop from the North Wall to Sidlesham and back. The farmland and scrub in this area looks absolutely prime for rare and, regardless of any of that stuff, the usual species here and general ambience of the place makes it one of my favourites.

Notable was a count of eight Lesser Whitethroats, but best of all was a reeling Grasshopper Warbler near Beggars Lane. Unaware of the species’ status on the Selsey peninsula/Pagham Harbour at the time I posted a message in the local WhatsApp group, soon to be inundated with messages and calls from locals – it turned out this was only the third record of Gropper in the last seven years. Not quite the Subalpine discovery I had in my mind but pleasing to chance upon nonetheless, and one of 10 warbler species logged.

Lesser Whitethroat, Pagham Harbour, 21/4/2019.

Black-tailed Godwits and Teal, Pagham Harbour, 21/4/2019.

Back late that night, while putting the microphone up on Allden’s Hill, a flock of Teal called as they passed overhead. Sunday was relatively quiet in the continued fine weather, though some real excitement came at Tilsey Farm. A male Yellowhammer had been singing there for a few weeks, but the species doesn’t breed on patch (it does so not far away). So, I was absolutely chuffed when I saw him with a female inspecting a suitable looking hedge for nesting this morning. Fingers and toes crossed that they stick about. Towards sundown, a poke about The Hurtwood was somewhat productive, in that Cuckoo, Firecrest and Garden Warbler were all seen.

Yellowhammers, Tilsey Farm, 22/4/2019.

Mallards, Winkworth Arboretum, 19/4/2019.

Jackdaw, Bonhurst Farm, 22/4/2019.

There’s been no real rarities in April, but a more than satisfactory migration period and the odd local scarce and patch mega thrown in for good measure. Hopefully the good form can continue through the last week of the month and into May, a month when the real once-in-a-lifetime prizes can be found.