Godalming area birds

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Monday, 9 May 2022

A sarnie amid the steadiness

The first week or two of May always through up some excitement locally. This has been the case this year, although in general things have been rather steady, lacking somewhat in both dynamism and numbers of migrants – much like spring 2022 as a whole. But, as always at this season, there's been loads to see and enjoy, and I can't turn my nose up at a period that produced a local lifer.

Sandwich Tern: my first south-west Surrey lifer in seven months.

Sunday 1st

On 1 May last year Dave and I broke the Thursley big day record with 76 species, so I thought I'd head out there today and see how many I could tally up today. Some five hours, 16 km and 20,000 steps later and I managed 75 – not bad at all. The highlight was a Little Ringed Plover over Pudmore early on, which was a welcome site first for me. A Yellow Wagtail followed overhead shortly afterwards.

Curlew, Snipe and Meadow Pipit were all in song on Ockley, with the latter presumably the same male I had at South Bog on 26 April. It'll be amazing if he pairs up and breeds. The three Lapwings were also around with both the males displaying. A Hobby over High Ground was a year first and I'm sure it was taking more than a passing interest in the light northward passage of hirundines that was taking place and involving all three species.



Lapwing action.

Excellent numbers of Woodlark included a family party of five birds near Crossbill Corner. Several presumed second brood males were in voice again too. Four Garden and 12 Willow Warblers were singing, as well as a decent five Tree Pipits. The biggest omission of the morning was Treecreeper! 

I checked Tuesley late afternoon. A striking Lesser Black-backed Gull caught my eye and seemed to fit intermedius. It was smaller than graellsii birds nearby and, most notably, had much darker upperparts. Dark enough to rule out a Dutch intergrade? I'm not sure. Intermedius is very rare locally and I've only ever seen one before in south-west Surrey …

Intermedius-type LBB (right-hand bird).

Two Hobbies flew east as well, spooking the gathered hirundines as they went.

Monday 2nd

A Whimbrel heading north over the garden was a real surprise this morning and a welcome 1 km (and garden) tick. It's been a great spring for inland passage of this species …

Later on I walked Shackleford, where a quiet but pleasant hour-and-a-half stroll produced a male Greenland Wheatear, two Ravens, a distant singing Cuckoo and a Little Owl.


Little Owl and Wheatear.

Observations during an afternoon bike ride included two Nightingales, Siskin and Garden Warbler at Milford Common, Yellowhammer, Redstart and Willow Warbler at Witley Common and Kingfisher, two Common Terns, two Firecrests and a Reed Warbler at Enton Lakes.

Kingfisher.

Tuesday 3rd

A strange morning at Tuesley. The remains of a Whimbrel were a grim early discovery and looked to be the work of a fox. A sad end for a bird on a long journey … four Little Egrets over was a whacky May record indeed – I wonder what they were up to?

Three Yellow Wagtails went over before the session was capped off by two very much alive Whimbrel that circled before heading south. What a bonkers spring for this species – I've now had 11 individuals locally (zero last year; usually one or two annually).


Whimbrel and ex-Whimbrel.

My first Swift of the year was in a mixed flock of some 100 hirundines at Frensham Great Pond in the evening.

Wednesday 4th

A promising forecast coupled with a big movement of birds up the Severn yesterday meant I was staking out Tuesley from first light. It started well, too, with two Whimbrel going north at 05:33. I appreciate I'm repeating myself a bit now, but what a totally nuts spring for this species, something noticed by other patch-watchers in the South-East.

More Whimbrel ...

Unfortunately the promised rain never came, and my vigil was pretty quiet save a light passage of Swallows and Sand Martins, a Yellow Wagtail and my fourth Tuesley Kingfisher. I was packing my stuff up at 07:25 when a familiar call came from overhead: Sandwich Tern!

I picked the bird up heading steadily south – I had to unpack my camera and thus only got poor record shots. I presumed it had gone, but about a minute later it reappeared, this time flying low north, treating me to sensational views. It disappeared to the north – a brilliant encounter over in minutes.



Sandwich Tern.

Only my second Surrey record, and a first for me in south-west Surrey (number 185), this marked a very pleasing find after the relative slog of the last few weeks. The last south-west Surrey record came at Unstead SF in May 2015 – there have only been six records in the 21st century and the nature of this species' brevity when passing through inland counties makes this morning feel especially fortunate.

Thursday 5th

I was back in the Dunsfold area today, visiting Painshill Farm again. This time I did score Lesser Whitethroat – a rather mobile and skulking male that was occasionally giving some song. A second bird may have been present too. Thanks to Graham for the tip-off. 



Lesser Whitethroat.

It really is mad how rare and localised this species is in south-west Surrey, with two adjacent sites in the Dunsfold area the only places they're reliably found (and even then they can be tricky). In fact, a look through my records suggests this was only the 11th time I've seen Lesser Whitethroat in south-west Surrey – crazy!

Two each of Nightingale and Garden Warbler and singles of Cuckoo, Yellowhammer and Skylark were in song as well, while a Raven cronked away to the south-east.

Friday 6th

Both Sedge Warblers were still going for it on the Lammas Lands this morning, where a breeding-plumage Little Egret dropped into Hell Ditch and a Grey Wagtail was taking food into a nest.

Little Egret.

Saturday 7th

The Surrey 5km bird race challenge today saw Sam and I (joined in part by Dave and Matt) conduct a massive 15-hour session in the field. A separate post about our efforts can be read here.

Sunday 8th

No observations of note.

Monday 9th

No birding today.

Surrey 5 km bird race challenge

On Saturday [7 May] Sam and I took part in the Surrey 5 km bird race challenge, joined at times by Dave and Matt. The idea of the challenge was for teams of birders to see how many species they could record within a 5 km radius of their home or patch. Emphasis was on going as green as possible (i.e. car sharing, using a bike etc) and a finish time of 18:00 was agreed. Our team (Teal Madrid) opted for a 5km radius of Eashing.

The Eashing 5 km ...

Having done a bit of prep, we agreed pre-race we'd be happy with 85 species. Anyway, Sam and I met at the heinous time of 02:45 and we headed to the Peperharow in search of owls. Moorhen was weirdly the first bird of the day at the former site but we only scored Little Owl and, having dipped Tawny Owl and Woodcock at Puttenham, we moved south to Milford Common, where three Nightingales were giving it welly in the darkness.

We then headed to Thursley, arriving just before 04:00. It was quite atmospheric watching the sun rise and the site light up as birdsong commenced all around us. We knew we needed a decent session here if we were to have a good day total and thankfully the common delivered. Key species that we logged included Water Rail, Nightjar, Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe, with Wheatear and Siskin very welcome 'bonus birds'. A Sedge Warbler singing at Pudmore was a surprise as well.


Curlew and Wheatear.

After three-and-a-half hours here we moved on to Tuesley (scoring Swift and House Martin in Milford en route), where two Common Sandpipers were very welcome. Lesser Black-backed Gull – a potentially slippery customer – was also logged. We added a few common waterbirds at Enton afterwards, as well as our only Reed Warblers of the day.

After dipping Yellowhammer near Hydestile we headed to Witley Common, where the sole male was in song. Garden Warbler and Jay were also added. It was then on to Eashing, where we ticked Red-legged Partridge without getting out the car. 

We then walked the river at Eashing, with Marsh Tit the target. We eventually scored our quarry but also left with two more bonus birds: Surrey's first Spotted Flycatcher of the year (a 1 km tick for me!) and a flyover Little Egret.

Spotted Flycatcher (Matt's photo).

A pit-stop for coffee at mine saw Grey Wagtail added to the list while in the garden. Shackleford was up next and we got a few smart bits here, not least two Yellow Wagtails. Hobby, Kestrel and Wheatear were also noted. Still needing some common waterbirds we headed to Cutt Mill – we didn't get said common species, but drake Teal and Gadwall were most unexpected on the house pond.

Needing a rest, we headed back to Thursley for a long lunchbreak and skywatch. This added Sparrowhawk and Grey Heron (!) but not much else, despite promising showers and cloud. We still didn't have Cormorant – by now our only obvious omission – so headed back to Enton. None there, but three Sand Martins were another bonus. 

The Lammas Lands delivered Kingfisher but Broadwater failed to produce Cormorant, so we hastily headed onto Loseley, where Raven was easily added: number 96. Desperate, we went back to Enton where, at last, two Cormorants were on the island at Johnson's. With about two hours to go and lacking energy we decided to go back to Shackleford and stake it out, in the hope of perhaps a Whinchat or Peregrine. 

Unfortunately we didn't add anything here, though the Wheatear, two Ravens and only our second Green Woodpecker of the day were present. Knackered, we dragged ourselves to where we started: Peperharow. Here we finally heard a couple of Ring-necked Parakeets – number 98. We still had the best part of an hour to play with but were happy to call it a day, very pleased with our score (which proved to be the winning score out of 19 teams). We'd walked more than 30,000 steps by the end of it as well!

Our only obvious omission was Woodcock – I'm not sure how we didn't get one at Thursley or Puttenham. Only one of us saw Barn Owl, so we couldn't include it. Cetti's Warbler never seemed on the cards this year alas, with other possibilities we didn't get including Peregrine, Crossbill and Lesser Redpoll.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

Whimbrel week

April has gone by in a flash, as it often does. As with my last post, migration action has been fairly limited – not usually the case at this exciting time of year. A marked passage of Whimbrel has highlighted but in truth there's been little else to shout about in scarce terms, with the persistent and dry north-easterly airflow not exactly helping to shuffle the pack. Perhaps May will deliver a few more local goodies.

It's been a week for Whimbrel in the local area.

Saturday 23rd

With breezy north-easterlies and heavy cloud forecast a Tuesley stakeout was the order of the day, and it started brilliantly with two roosting Whimbrel. The birds, presumably in overnight, were content for a good hour-and-a-half despite the odd bit of grief from the gulls. Then, unprompted, they flew north at 07:37. Quality stuff, and particularly so after a blank year locally in 2021.





Whimbrel action (including one slipping on the rubber!).

A male Little Ringed Plover dropped in for a while before disappearing high north-west. Weirdly, it – or another – was back about nearly 90 minutes after it flew off and remained settled. Another lovely species to encounter locally. 


The prolonged watch meant a few other bits were noted, including two flyover Yellow Wagtails, five Sand Martins, a couple of House Martins (only my second record of the year!), Green Sandpiper, five Common Terns and a Cuckoo singing to the south. A quality session was capped off at 08:43 when a further three Whimbrel flew silently north.

Whimbrel flock.

An influx of inland Little Gulls prompted me to check Frensham and Enton mid-afternoon, but both sites were very quiet, save two Gadwall at the latter site.

Sunday 24th

Another breezy morning but bright and warm. I headed to the Dunsfold area with Lesser Whitethroat – that trickiest of south-west Surrey species – on my radar. An hour-and-a-half at Painshill Farm failed to produce, although two each of Nightingale, Yellowhammer and Skylark, a male Cuckoo, a singing Garden Warbler and few Red-legged Partridges were a fine consolation cast.

I then tried Barrihurst Farm over the road. I'm lucky to have access to the private site – and what an extraordinary place it is. I'd confidently say there is nowhere like it in Surrey; it feels very much like Knepp or somewhere in Eastern Europe, with endless bramble thickets and towering blackthorn hedges. The video below doesn't do it justice ...

Anyway, a wonderful session here produced several good bits, with the clear highlight a Turtle Dove that flew through before being lost in the scrubby jungle (and not relocated). Jeremy had this species here until a few years ago so it's possible they hang on, and this is certainly an encouraging record. 

Six singing Nightingales was a great count, a Barn Owl was flushed from an oak, a Kestrel zipped about, a male Cuckoo sang, a Long-tailed Tit pair were seen taking food to a nest and lots of Whitethroats and Blackcaps were in voice. Magic!

Observations during a mid-afternoon bike ride included Marsh Tit along the river, Raven at Shackleford and Ring-necked Parakeet at Peper Harow.

Monday 25th

It was cold and grey this morning. A fleeting Whimbrel was a treat at Tuesley, even if it vanished minutes after I first espied it on the northern shore. Yellow Wagtail and Green Sandpiper were also noted.

Whimbrel at dawn.

A Ring-necked Parakeet was an unusual sight in Milford on the way to Frensham Great Pond, where a quiet session produced my belated first Reed Warblers of the year, along with Firecrest and Redstart

While passing through Tilford on the way home I noted a drake Gadwall on the Wey – almost as incongruous as the two Helmeted Guineafowl on the nearby village green!

Tuesday 26th

Another morning, another Whimbrel at Tuesley, this one perhaps the most unexpected given the cold, clear conditions. What a few days for this species ... having had none in the local area last year I've now seen seven in the last four days.

Whimbrel.

I then walked the river before work, where I was very pleased to note a Marsh Tit carrying food at Eashing Marsh. Singles of Garden Warbler and Whitethroat were also present.

Marsh Tit with food.

A recently fledged Mistle Thrush was in the garden in the afternoon – likely from the presumed nest a few hundred metres away by the river.

After work I cycled to Thursley, where a few bits of note were around. Best of all were three Lapwings on Pudmore, including a displaying male. Hopefully a pair can nest successfully this year after the failure in 2021 … a singing Meadow Pipit at South Bog was a real surprise (and something to keep tabs on), a Curlew was heard, a Lesser Redpoll flew over Ockley and a male Wheatear was at the bottom of Shrike Hill.

Wheatear.

I then headed to Tuesley and was greeted by a lovely early evening trio – my first Common Sandpiper of the year, a male Little Ringed Plover and a glorious male Yellow Wagtail.



Yellow Wagtail, Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper.

Wednesday 27th

A relatively lively inland day in the South-East tempted me to Enton and Tuesley at lunch, where all three hirundine species were present at both sites and in fairly good numbers too. Tuesley also held a new Little Ringed Plover – joining yesterday's bird – and the Common Sandpiper.

LRPs.

Thursday 28th

No birding.

Friday 29th

An atmospheric mist hung over the Lammas Lands this morning, where I was surprised to find a second Sedge Warbler was holding fort on Catteshall Meadow – quite an occurrence given this species' scarcity in south-west Surrey. Perhaps a late migrant? The original bird was still by the old carping pond and has now been here for 10 days …

A female Reed Bunting was carrying food nearby but it was generally quiet, with a similarly steady state of affairs at Unstead Water Meadows afterwards. Here a singing Reed Warbler back on territory highlighted, along with the two Sedge Warblers.

I then walked Shackleford, where a bright male Greenland Wheatear posed on the model airfield. Another was at the other end of the farm, but there was little else of note save an excellent number of Skylarks, many busy carrying food.

Wheatear.
Saturday 30th

A lazy start, and the uninspiring conditions prompted me to go for somewhere a bit different, namely Hindhead Common. It proved to be an enjoyable hike around the site which is perhaps south-west Surrey's most poorly birded locale. It's a spectacular place and one can't help but imagine what it was like here in the 1800s and beyond, when Black Grouse roamed around what would have been a very wild landscape …

More recently Wood Warbler has been lost from this area but there was still plenty to see today, with action in the Devil's Punch Bowl including four Redstarts, three Garden Warblers, Cuckoo, Dartford Warbler, Tree Pipit, two Woodlarks and two Willow Warblers.



A Marsh Tit pair were carrying food at Highcomb Bottom, a Raven cronked somewhere in the distance and a decent count of nine Firecrests was made.

Two recently fledged Woodpigeons and a Kestrel visited the garden in the evening.

Friday, 22 April 2022

Dry April

Another week has passed in this rather dry April. Like the last two years there's been very little rainfall this month, something that's usually a hallmark of the season. It's been fairly dry on the bird front too, with migration action somewhat limited during the clear and often bright run of weather. There's still been plenty to admire and get stuck into, though, as there always is in spring. 

Male Dartford Warbler.

Friday 15th

Sadly the female Mute Swan was off the nest at Snowdenham Mill Pond this morning, with the eggs presumably taken by a Fox (which has happened here before … ). Both her and the male were being highly territorial, though, so there's hope for another effort. A late pair of Shoveler were of note, with a drake and female Gadwall and one of the Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrids also about.


Shoveler pair and Red-crested Pochard hybrid.

Enton Lakes afterwards was fairly quiet, with two each of Gadwall and Common Tern highlighting. The feral female Goldeneye duo were also knocking about.


Common Tern and Gadwall.

Saturday 16th

Another sunny, clear morning, and a walk around The Hurtwood produced two Willow Warblers, a Firecrest and three Lesser Redpolls. However, there was a distinct lack of Woodlark, Dartford Warbler or Tree Pipit, with many of the previously suitable clear-fell areas now sporting young birch.

I headed onto Court Farm but it was rather quiet there, save three Yellowhammers and a Kestrel.

Sunday 17th

No birding.

Monday 18th

A male Whinchat was good value at Shackleford this morning, and something of a surprise given it was another clear day. He was kept very occupied by the copious amount of insect prey on offer and must have been pleased to find this most perfect of stop-off locations. A few more Whitethroats were in and the Little Owl was seen, but it was otherwise quiet.






Whinchat and Little Owl.

Tuesday 19th

Conditions were similar this morning although it was a touch colder, and a walk around Puttenham Common was low-key. Three singing Tree Pipits were noted, while two each of Redstart and Woodlark were in voice. A pair of Linnets were collecting nesting material by the top car park.


Tree Pipit.

Wednesday 20th

It was grey and a touch chilly at Thursley this morning, where a steady session produced 50 species. My first Cuckoo of the year was in song towards Parish Field and good numbers of Willow Warbler and Redstart (eight singing males apiece) were noted. I didn't log a single Tree Pipit, however; this species seems to be on a real slide at this site. 

Other bits included the Curlew pair, two separate Woodlarks carrying food, a female Mallard with six ducklings, singles of Meadow Pipit, Snipe and Water Rail and a male Kestrel hunting successfully over South Bog. 

After work I walked Eashing Fields, where the Stonechat pair were busy carrying food around and generally being agitated – surely young will be evident soon.

Thursday 21st

This morning I walked along the river up to Unstead Water Meadows, noting 53 species by the time I was home. A Lammas Lands first greeted me at Catteshall Meadow – a male Sedge Warbler singing by the old carping pond. Found by Neil on 19th, the bird is seemingly holding fort. Hopefully it finds a mate … other bits included two Stonechats, eight Linnets and five Reed Buntings.

Unstead Water Meadows was fairly quiet, with a second male Sedge Warbler now in the reedbed there. Two late Snipe were flushed, a pair of Stonechats were by Bunkers Hill Farm and a recently fledged Robin was hopping around.

Heading back home along the Eashing stretch produced a Ring-necked Parakeet over Milton Wood, a decent count of five Bullfinches and, best of all, my first Garden Warbler of the year, which was singing on and off in a bramble thicket by Eashing Marsh.

A singing Whitethroat was a nice garden tick at lunchtime.

Friday 22nd

A waterbody sweep began well at Tuesley on this grey and breezy morning with a Ringed Plover through. The bird was very vocal but clearly on a mission and chose not to drop in … two Common Terns were at Enton, while Frensham Great Pond produced a small flock of Sand Martins and a singing Firecrest.

I then walked Thursley, which was livelier than Wednesday despite the increasing wind. A female Cuckoo bubbling away over Will Reeds was a nice start – a male was later in song towards Elstead. A Yellow Wagtail over Pudmore was a year first for me, a Little Egret dropped into West Bog, a Raven was seen distantly to the west and a lingering Meadow Pipit was heard. A super tame Dartford Warbler capped off a decent visit.




Dartford Warbler.

A mid-afternoon cycle to Eashing Farm produced Whitethroat and Swallow.