Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 8 October 2018

A week on Lewis

I recently returned from a week on Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. Situated in the far north-west of Britain and in a prime location to receive (particularly) Nearctic vagrants and also eastern species, there’s no doubt that the island, with a resident birder population of less than five, is seriously under-watched. My visit was arranged with the intention to try and unearth some migrants, and despite trying conditions and limited results, it’s safe to say Lewis needs to start becoming seriously considered by autumn self-find crews.

Golden Eagles were seen on most days.

The Outer Hebrides of course have rich birding heritage, but the island of Lewis and Harris is weirdly off-grid. There is no literature whatsoever on the island from a birding perspective (not even a sentence in the expansive Where to Watch Birds in Britain). Even the internet yields little. A scan through the BBRC archives, and sightings data via BirdGuides is about as good as it gets. Given that, in the last four (yes four!) years, Lewis has recorded Chimney Swift, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, White-crowned Sparrow and both Wilson’s and Rüppell's Warbler, it’s pretty remarkable. Add in the recent rapid elevation in status Barra has enjoyed, and it makes it even more curious that Lewis remains largely un-visited.

Fortunately, I was put in touch with Tony Marr, finder of that Wilson’s Warbler, who was able to supply me with excellent gen and detailed information on the island. Dan Pointon also helped with sites, but otherwise it was down to Google Earth and an OS map to work out where looked good. Like many Northern Isles, almost anywhere can hold a migrant, and Lewis was no exception. In theory, most places along the west coast from the Butt of Lewis to Mangersta could be productive. The villages along this stretch of coast hold gardens, some with highly attractive cover. Then you have the acres of crofts, coastal crops, iris beds, small plantations, sandy beaches, coastal lochs, machair meadows and plentiful views out into the Atlantic. The extent of these different habitats varies, but it’s all there, and consequently relatively varied birding can be done, which is important in a place as wild as Lewis…

This Barred Warbler was found in a garden in Bragar.

The weather has to be considered. Of course, unsettled periods, a heavily westerly airflow and fast-moving transatlantic depressions from North America are ideal for Nearctic arrivals. In this ‘all-or-nothing’ weather standard eastern drift fare is likely to be limited, and Lewis’ westerly location furthers this probability – when it’s quiet, it’s super quiet. However, the selection of mouth-watering Yanks mentioned earlier suggests that Lewis should theoretically be one of the first to score in such favourable conditions. And, regardless, the aforementioned Rüppell's, and scarce stuff found as standard (myself included) shows that easterly conditions would still deliver good birds to be found.

On top of these fine factors, you have to contend with the harsh local weather. This was the sole frustration I found with Lewis. Sure, I knew it’d be wet, I knew it’d be windy, but the relentless nature of it was pretty frustrating. Based on my conversations with locals I was particularly unlucky. In total, I had a grand total of seven hours of suitable passerine-searching weather! Every day experienced rain, sometimes heavy, but it was the force 8/9 winds that were the killer, and they rolled through on five of the six full days I was there! Add in the particularly uninspiring wider weather patterns for migrants (reflected across the country this autumn), and I was already on the back foot, as well as working solo.

Flocks of Twite were commonly encountered.

Anyway, despite this, I had a pleasant week of birding. Based in Bragar, about thirty minutes along the coast from the Butt, I made myself a patch away from patch, which encompassed the village gardens, a couple of coastal lochs, crofts and a seawatching vantage. I was pleased with my haul of 79 species for this small area, the best of which were Barred Warbler, Common Rosefinch, two Lapland Buntings and two Yellow-browed Warblers. The former was found on the best day by far for migrant-finding – sunny and settled conditions after a storm the day before had resulted in a mini-fall in the village, which included four other warbler species. Indeed, that morning I saw more warblers than I did the whole trip. Three ‘Greenland’ Common Redpolls were good value, and a few Mealy’s were also seen around the village. However, I can’t help but feel that, if I had one or two more days of decent conditions for passerines, that dream Yank or eastern rare would've taken me out the scarce-zone.

Several Whooper Swan families were seen.

The Outer Hebrides have plenty of species that are nice for the southern, landlocked birder to encounter, and often this kept me going. Both Golden and White-tailed Eagles were seen daily, with Merlins often noted as they dashed past and Hen Harriers commonplace. Flocks of Twite were frequently encountered, and it was humbling to watch various species come in off the sea from Iceland and Greenland, including Whooper Swans, Barnacle Geese and Snipe. Seawatching was OK; conditions often seemed ripe for a Sabine’s or even just a Leach’s, but the best I managed was a couple of Pomarine Skuas and several Sooty Shearwaters.

Waders disappointed. This almost untapped western strip of coast surely holds many, many Nearctic waders that go undetected. I was a week or two late for prime time, and I understand it’s been a poor breeding season, but I was disappointed to not find at least a Pectoral Sandpiper, or an American Golden Plover (I must have looked at nearly 3,000 European Golden Plovers that week!). My main wader searching site was Loch Ordais, and the lack of anything unusual here was made up for somewhat by the presence of a pair of Eurasian Otters.

Eurasian Otters offered good views at Loch Ordais.


Where to bird

As mentioned, the west coast from the Butt to Mangersta is likely the best part of the island to search. I was based in between the two, at Bragar – in hindsight I may have been better off based at the Butt or around Mangersta. However, Bragar juts out a little, and the habitat around the village is diverse. Anyway, below is an attempted, loose summary of where should be productive:

Butt of Lewis area

The tip of the island, perhaps starting at South Dell and running up to Port of Ness, and taking in the Butt of Lewis down to Skigersta, is likely where many migrants end up. Tony Marr is based here, and all five of the megas mentioned earlier have been found in the area. A point well made by Dan is that the gardens along the road south from Lionel to Skigersta is probably where many migrants that think they’re heading inland end up – I checked these on two days, but the wind beat me both times. If I was to visit again, I’d stay in this area.

Meadow and Rock Pipits (above) were common.

Mangersta, Ardroil and Gallen Head

Exceptionally remote – people hardly visit these places, let alone bird them. The few gardens at Mangersta are surely magnets for migrants. The notably extensive gardens around Ardroil are probably a good place to start – I had a Pied Flycatcher here, and Dan a Common Rosefinch in mid-September. Very exposed though, particularly Gallen Head.

Kneep loop

A real favourite of mine and it’d be keen to stay here. It’s basically a ring road that starts near the church at Miavaig. The gardens adjacent to said church were packed full of birds, sadly all common, but surely a great place to look. Kneep also had tasty looking cover – I saw a flock of c.100 Lesser Redpolls here.

Much of the coastline is Rocky - good news if you're a Purple Sandpiper.

Bragar area

The gardens are particularly extensive at Bragar, with a good number of sycamores. Loch Ordais is the best wader site on the island in my opinion (more on Steinis later), and the crops, iris beds and crofts nearby held loads of common finches and buntings. This is where I found the Common Rosefinch. Seawatching can be done from the various vantages either side of the loch.

Carloway and Garenin

I didn’t spend much time here, but some good gardens in a good location are surely productive.

The marked undertail coverts, dumpy appearance, heavy bill and white outer tail feathers can be seen here.

Stornoway area

Two notable habitats here are the estuary at Steinis and the Lews Castle Grounds. I found the waders at Steinis to be always a bit distant (and relatively low in number). The Castle Grounds are unique in the Outer Hebrides – the only woodland, and they hold breeders such as Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Whitethroat, all unheard of elsewhere in the county. I had a Yellow-browed Warbler here, and in calm conditions a couple of days after a low, this could deliver.

This Lesser Whitethroat arrived with several other warblers.


Conclusions

  • So much potential, but so much land – this is an island that needs multiple crews if the full fruits are to be harvested. It’s not a small island, and the key sites aren’t close to one another.
  • Weather. It’s probably worth considering doing the island if some appealing conditions from the west are in play. Otherwise it can be a slog, and the size of the island means concentrations of birds are always going to be far lower than say Shetland. In essence, Lewis should perhaps be twitched in the event of that all-or-nothing Yank weather.
  • Earlier visit. A mid-September visit wouldn’t harm chances of finding that Red-eyed Vireo (or Connecticut Warbler!), and it’d also mean Nearctic waders should be easier to come by.
'Pure' Rock Doves were seen in large flocks.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Skua

This little episode will take some getting over…

It’s Sunday 23rd September. The previous day and night, a foul storm whipped up in the North Sea, and on Sunday morning a strong north/northwest wind was blowing, with at times driving rain and heavy cloud. It was a morning for sitting at home with a coffee, and the reports of an astonishing number of seabirds being pushed west into the Thames intrigued – 450 Great and 275 Arctic Skuas past Oare Marshes alone, with much smaller but still notable counts of Long-tailed and Pomarine Skuas and Little and Sabine’s Gulls along there and other north Kent watchpoints.
The shortish tail, heavy chest and head/bill and general stocky
shape can be made out in this photo, just as the bird flew
behind the oak, and was lost for good.

Birds were clearly seeking shelter. During the miserable weather, 19 Spoonbills pitched up at Beddington for a while, a Surrey and London record count. However, not long after lunch, the sun appeared as if from nowhere, and calm was restored. I joked with Wes as to how I was heading to the patch to find a seabird.

I headed up The Ridge, and sky-watched for a bit. There was little doing bar the local corvids and raptors enjoying the remaining breeze, and I continued onto Junction Field, where I’d have more sky. It was quiet here too save for a couple of Meadow Pipits bounding south, and I was ready to leave when, out the corner of my eye, I picked up a fairly high bird moving west-southwest over Ridings Brook. It was one of those moments where you instantly know it’s something interesting, so I lifted my bins to the bird.

An assortment of swear words entered my mind as it became pretty clear that this was a skua. The first feature that struck, and remained key throughout, was the total darkness of this bird – dark brown all over, though I could make out faint white patches on the underwing. It was a little smaller than a large gull, but with a distinctive flight style – direct yet measured. The bird seemed tapered towards the rear; slightly top heavy and barrel-chested, and looked relatively short-tailed. The darkness of the plumage was so striking, assuring my mind that this wasn't a 1st-winter gull. Yes, this was definitely a f***ing skua!

The shock meant I spent about a minute watching this bird as it continued its flight path towards The Ridge (and annoyingly the sun) before I reached for the camera, firing off as many images as I could. My thoughts were racing a little. Any birding friend will tell you that a (any) skua species here is my dream patch find, but, particularly in autumn, they are fraught with ID pitfalls unless seen well. This bird was fairly distant, but clearly a skua, and I’d got some photos…however, I wanted longer views, and having disappeared out of vision behind a big oak, it would be only 20 seconds or so before it would reappear, and I could nail it.

A clearly dark bird, with a barrel-chest that tapers slightly 
towards the tail. The tail length here is down to the angle - 
it wasn't noted in the field or any other photos.
I waited. I scanned. I craned my neck. OK, maybe it’ll take a little longer than 20 seconds. Surely? It never reappeared. I raced back up the path to see if I could work out what direction it had taken, but I couldn’t find it. I was crushed. I’d just watched a dream bird fly over my patch, and I hadn’t secured the ID. I stood stunned for a few minutes, before I began to flick through the photos. They weren’t much good from the back of camera views, but a skua-shaped beast was present. I soon worked out that my only hope was to get these on the laptop, and I took solace in that.

I finished my loop to Bonhurst Farm and back (the long-staying Black Redstart gave itself up quickly, as if urging me to get home and review my shots). As I passed back over The Ridge news of a Gannet over Worcester Park, in north Surrey, appeared on BirdGuides. I remained positive, in the hope I could clinch the identification with a little help from Photoshop.

This anticipation, however, was to be punctured. The photos just didn’t have enough reach to make out anything beyond a skua. The darkness of the bird, chunky shape, barrel chest and front-heavy appearance could be made out. One image in particular seemed to showed a long tail. However, I had nothing that could take the identification further than I'd already taken it already...which wasn't very far!

After spending quite a while editing and sending photos around, the reality that this bird just couldn’t be confirmed as a 100% hit home. I was left with a feeling of total disappointment. A dream, one-off chance came, and I blew it! The odds on another skua flying over the patch are slim at best. Obviously it’s exciting to have seen a skua over here, but the frustration of not being able to pin it to species level is immense. Unfortunately, there are a few Surrey records of 'skua sp.', and it's the nature of the beast when you don't get all the luck and then a little more on your side. Inland patching, and indeed patching, can be a dangerous game.

Perhaps fittingly, to finish off this one-that-got-away to end all ones-that-got-away, a final, generous sprinkling of salt into the wound; early this morning the hand of harsh reality delivered a knockout punch via a Whatsapp message from Wes, who I knew was up the Leith Hill Tower: “Bonxie SSW 06:28”…

Postscript 


There isn't much point delving into the intricacies of autumn skua ID, given the quality of the photos and so on. However, naturally, I consulted birding friends for further thoughts. Tied with field views and scrutinising of the photos, a popular consensus (for what it probably was) has been reached.

Here the barrel chest, heavy bill and shortish, wedge tail are seen (AB).

The front-heavy, barrel-chested and slightly tapered shape of the bird was seen in the field and in photos. The bird was very dark - faint white patches could just about be made out when the bird was first picked up, but they were soon harder to see (not helped by the fact the bird was flying straight into the light and away from me). The darkness of the bird and it's hefty appearance contradicted it's rather elegant flight. The bird appeared to have a heavy bill. In the field, I didn't see a tail projection of any note. My initial thought was a probable Great Skua.

Having passed the photos around a few folk (with far greater experience than I), the majority of the opinion mirrored mine - it was probably a Bonxie, but other species couldn't be ruled out. However, one opinion I rate particularly highly was adamant the bird wasn't a Great, and was probably an Arctic/Pomarine. This opinion was understandable when considering the second photo in this post - the bird there doesn't appear much like a Bonxie at all, with a sleeker profile and apparant longer tail.

Here the barrel chest, dark tones, slightly tapering rear end and tail projection are seen (IB).

This led to the exploration of the pom avenue (with thanks to the resolute opinion still being held by said consultant). A perk of my job is that I was able to intensively scrutinise the photos today, and gain further expert opinion in the office. The bird felt too hefty for Arctic, as well as bigger. Dark, juvenile Pomarine is a plumage I'm only thinly familiar with, and I admit to having little appreciation of the bulk and darkness of many poms this age. After examining many photos, I’m left feeling that Pomarine Skua is essentially the only thing preventing the certainty of Great Skua.

In my modest opinion, it must have been a Great Skua - the barrel shape, shortish tail, heavy appearance and bill, size, white wing flashes and very dark plumage point to this species. However, I'll never know for sure...Below are some comparison images, to add visuals to this text if nothing else.

Here the bulk, barrel chest, heavy bill and shortish, wedge tail are seen (DB).

Friday, 14 September 2018

Counting martins

Last Saturday was one of those rare vismig moments where you don’t really want to leave. As soon as I arrived at New Barn it was a clear a big south-west movement of House Martins was taking place, with a non-stop stream of birds piling in from the north and east, all tracking the east side of Hascombe Hill – the biggest gap in the High Weald Ridge – and moving onward. It was truly breath-taking. After a couple of hours, it wound down, but I was left with a new record count – 1,209 in total.

House Martin, New Barn, 8/9/2018.


With them were just 73 Swallows, and two Sand Martins. The first Meadow Pipits of the autumn, a Tree Pipit and two frustratingly distant egrets made for a highly enjoyable and varied session – not really what you expect in early September. Other, non-vismig bits over the weekend included the continued Black Redstart, one each of Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear, two Spotted Flycatchers, the first Great Black-backed Gull of the season and probably the last Whitethroat, Garden and Willow Warblers of the year.

Certainly, the latter fact seems likely, a probability enhanced by my lack of time on patch this week. In fact, it’s been none at all, with a busy working week, shortening days and windy evenings meaning I haven’t even been able to strap my virtual reality birding mask on and do any nocmig. However, it seems this September is proving similar to last year, with south-westerly winds dominating – no good for the inland patcher really, so hopefully I’m not missing much...

That said, news today of a covey of Grey Partridges being seen on one of the estates this week is exciting news, but not quite as gripping as that of a long-staying Osprey on private land, some metres beyond the patch boundary. It’s safe to say I’ll be out first thing tomorrow, waving a salmon around deliriously.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Opening Exchanges

The September curtain raiser weekend was another fairly productive one, with a moderate assortment of migrants totted up. The early forecasts of cloud and north-east winds didn’t materialise, and in fact Saturday and Sunday were veritably glorious; not great for vis-mig, but pleasant nonetheless. Personally, the best bird was a Sedge Warbler on The Ridge on 31st – only the third site record, my second, and the first one I’ve actually clapped eyes on!

Sedge Warbler, The Ridge, 31/8/2018.
 The individual was fairly skulking during the 20 or so minutes of observation, either side of sunrise on Friday. Initial views revealed merely a well-marked central crown stripe – enough to get the ticker going, but thankfully some OK views confirmed back-in-the-real-world ID and prevented any Aquatic-induced heart attack. Still, a really, really tough bird to find here, and a great way to kick-off the weekend.

In fact, the 31st was the best of the three days, with a nice north-east wind, heavy cloud cover and early morning mist meaning seemingly every hedgerow and field held at least some life. A Yellow Wagtail flew over, and at Slades Farm three Crossbills chipped their way north. Not bad for a relatively brief morning session, and the conditions warranted a double-shift, so I popped out in the afternoon when I found two Wheatears at Bonhurst Farm, and located the Black Redstart (following three days of no reports).

Wheatear, Bonhurst Farm, 31/8/2018.
The skies had been quiet in the morning but by now there was a big hirundine push, with at least 700 hundred Swallows and House Martins piling east and into the wind. It was probably no surprise then that the evening produced lively nocmig, with the sites first Little Ringed Plover less than an hour after sundown, two (seemingly large) flocks of Gadwall, a Spotted Flycatcher and a Tree Pipit not long before dawn on 1st.

Redstart, Bonhurst Farm, 1/9/2018.
There were clearly still bits and pieces on the move on 1st, with a Spotted Flycatcher and five warbler species at New Barn a good start. A Redstart at Bonhurst Farm was the best of the bunch, a Sand Martin zipped south, but things generally wound down as the cloud cleared and temperature rose. It called for raptor watching, which is rarely dull here, and indeed most of my birding on Sunday was taken up by gazing at the skies. Another Yellow Wag went over in the morning, and a couple each of Siskin and Yellowhammer pointed to colder times ahead, but largely it was quiet and relaxing.

Junction Field, 2/9/2018.
The initially exciting forecast doesn’t look so great now, but there will surely be interesting things passing through, and Surrey seems to be coming to the autumn party (inevitably though uninvited, and likely to sit quietly in the corner for most of the night). Dave H found Surrey’s seventh Cattle Egret at QE11 reservoir on Sunday, and three Great Egrets swung by Barnes WWT on Saturday…maybe there’s more to come in the coming days?

Sparrowhawk, Allden's Hill, 1/9/2018.
There will be a separate and dedicated post for this, but it’s worth mentioning that I had an Ortolan Bunting over on nocmig last week…! I’ll get round to that soon.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Banker

As alluded to in a previous post, August is reliably productive for the Thorncombe Street area, and for inland sites in general. A mixture of dispersing breeders from places both near and far, as well as the opportunity for occasional drift migrants, means most sessions in the latter half of the month can deliver. Bank Holiday is usually good fun, and 2018 certainly was; over the long weekend a total of 74 species were recorded (no gulls!), including a mighty-fine three year ticks.

Wheatear, Bonhurst Farm, 24/8/2018.
The Black Redstart remained at home at Bonhurst Farm, with a continual stream of visiting birders popping in. The bird has proven popular, despite its oft-flighty and elusive behaviour, and the extra eyes on the site have unearthed some decent records. Most notable was a putative Oystercatcher that Rich S heard calling once yesterday afternoon; sadly he didn’t lay eyes on the bird, so it goes down as a probable, but given the lack of mimicking passerines at Bonhurst, and the two nocmig Oyc records in August so far, it seems likely to have been one.

Gillian S dug out the first Whinchat of the year on Friday afternoon, and I was able to add it to my 2018 list later that evening. Whinchats can be hard to find here, with one or two a year about average, so my thanks go to her for letting me know about the discovery. A Wheatear was also present, and I spent a really enjoyable hour or so with this particularly confiding individual. Sadly, the Black Redstart and Whinchat weren’t so approachable.

Whinchat, Bonhurst Farm, 24/8/2018.
The following day was quieter, with no sign of the Wheatear or Whinchat at Bonhurst, though a Yellow Wagtail flew over just before midday. A juvenile Hobby with its parents confirmed breeding success for the fourth successive year, and five other raptor species noted during the weekend, all of which are thought to have bred on site – an excellent haul. A hangover-induced late start on 26th turned out to work nicely in my favour, with a crazy four or five minute spell at New Barn delivering two patch rares.

Things had seemed fairly quiet, bar a couple of Willow Warblers around New Barn pond, but on the walk back it was clear a mixed flock of passerines had appeared. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were noted, as well as a few young Robins, before I heard a weird croaking call from within some dense brambles on the west side of the path. It immediately struck me that this may well be a Nightingale (check out this clip). The bird continued to make the calls, with the odd tuck, but was incredibly elusive. I played some tape, to which it clearly reacted, but I was quite keen to get views.

Black Redstart, Bonhurst Farm, 24/8/2018.
After about 20 minutes the bird eventually moved, and then flew, low over the path to the other side – thankfully this confirmed my suspicions, and it was indeed a Nightingale. Only my second here (after a singing bird in 2016), and a species that’s hard to see away from breeding grounds, even if the nearest site (Run Common) is little more than a kilometre away. Anyway, I had little time to stop and dwell as, literally seconds after the Nightingale dived into the vegetation, I caught site of a very red-rumped and tailed bird being chased by a Robin.

ID was a lot easier with this – a female-type Redstart, with the individual very vocal but never showing particularly well. Another year tick, and my first here since 2015; a statistic that’s surely down to my inability to find any on passage, as oppose to a lack of them. Presumably the same bird was present the following morning, further north along the path and right by the lay-by, but again was unusually elusive.

Grey Wagtail, Mill Pond, 26/8/2018.
There was some hirundine action yesterday, with big mixed flocks at Gatestreet Farm (100+) and Bonhurst Farm involving many young birds, presumably preparing to move off. Somewhat inevitably a few Sand Martins were there to be found, with at least four hawking over Rowe’s Flashe, Winkworth, in the morning. Other decent bits over the weekend not previously mentioned included a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, Red-crested Pochard, Firecrests and Shoveler.

There was no time or suitable weather for nocmig over the weekend, but the past couple of weeks have continued to turn up some fascinating records. Tree Pipits had a little peak, which seems to have tailed off, and a few Robins and Spotted Flycatchers have been noted. Waders still steal the show though, with another big flock (calls lasted two minutes!) of Black-tailed Godwits (20th), a loud and clear Oystercatcher (21st) and a Snipe (22nd). With the occasionally blowy westerlies calming down over the next few days, I plan to get the mic out on a few nights.

Raven, The Ridge, 25/8/2018.
It’s nearly September, and time for real passerine movement, vis-mig, and so on. The weather from the weekend and beyond is tentatively encouraging – at the moment a swing to east and north-east winds are forecast, which is really what any autumn patch watcher in this part of the world is after. Hopefully a few more Whinchats, Redstarts and Yellow Wags, maybe a nice Marsh Harrier or Osprey, perhaps a wader somewhere. All would be great. But, of course, a bigger prize is what’s truly sought after at this time of year.

2017 report

With print copies of the 2017 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report now sold out, free PDF versions can be obtained - contact via twitter or email to get one.

Wheatear, Bonhurst Farm, 24/8/2018.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Black Redstart

I was pleased to find a smart Black Redstart at Bonhurst Farm on Sunday morning, the second record for the site and first since spring 1991 - before I was born! Amazingly enough that record too came from Bonhurst Farm/Birtley House, and this species is still very rare in outer Surrey, certainly in this part of the county.


It's been a surprisingly elusive bird, and extremely mobile, frequenting the adjacent paddocks and nettle stand by the northerly and smallest barn of the main farm buildings. It occasionally sat up on a fence or roof, eyeing up insect prey, before dropping down, and repeating the process around the small area. The local Pied Wagtails seemed to take a disliking to it, but the bird was unfazed.



It was still present today, though I last saw it on Monday, when I managed to capture in in slightly better light sitting on one of the wires (first image). Sadly, the photos won’t be winning any awards, as the bird just didn’t stay still for long enough, or ever come close, and on the Sunday the light was rubbish. A good number of local birders have successfully twitched it since however, and some decent shots have been achieved.


Bonhurst Farm is certainly looking good for chats and the like at the moment, and hopefully I'll find a Whinchat there soon. Any long-staying, rare passerine is decent here, and the continued visits by local birders have uncovered some smart records for the site - John R found two Wheatears today, and a Spotted Flycatcher, and Malcolm F and Dougal S photographed the third Sand Martin record of the year on Monday. I wonder what would be found if it wasn't just me patching the area...

M Fincham.

J Rowland.
 Black Redstart becomes my 139th bird here, and number 122 for 2018.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Shpeez

Shpeez. Shpeeeez.

The shpeez of a flyover Tree Pipit is probably my favourite migration call. For a vis-mig devotee, such a ranking is quite the decision. The tseep of a Redwing is good, and the sweeup of a Yellow Wagtail offers the closest challenge, but there's something about an early autumn Tree Pipit, boldly propelling over my slice of Surrey countryside, that does it for me.

It's not like they can't be found fairly close to Thorncombe Street either. Winterfold Heath and the south-west commons hold healthy populations. They're still in the rare category here though - I've never had one on the deck, and there are still less than 10 records. The latter figure won't last long though, with the ever revolutionary noc-mig turning up a third of all historical records over the last two evenings.

Regardless, the sharp sound of a migrant Tree Pipit, not long after dawn on crisp late August or early September morning, is one that puts a smile on my face. Maybe it's a symbol of the realisation that summer is really coming to an end? Maybe it's just one of the particularly special qualities of vis-mig? Whatever the case, I hope to hear a couple more during the summer twilight zone, as we claw and grasp onto the last remnants of noisy beer gardens, green-leafed and life-filled woodlands, and ajar bedroom windows as we sleep.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

August Amongst Us

In my last post I mentioned the productiveness of Augusts gone by, and two weeks in it’s safe to say it seems to be putting in another solid performance in 2018, with four year ticks, one of which was a new species for the site. I also suggested in my previous post that wader movement was far from over, and indeed the new addition to the Thorncombe Street area list was one, a Dunlin, which gloriously squealed its way over Allden’s Hill 12 days ago.

Stonechat, Bonhurst Farm, 11/8/2018.
Dunlins are encountered semi-regularly by other nocturnal sound recorders, but it was a first for me, and is a relatively straightforward ID in nocmig terms. It becomes a very welcome addition to the site list, which remarkably has seen nine nocmig-based site-firsts in 2018; an extraordinary figure. A Common Sandpiper this Friday was slightly more expected, but again is a maiden nocmig species here, and the first record since Matt P had a flock of four at Rowe’s Flashe, Winkworth, on 30th April 2015. Indeed, Common Sand still somehow evades my patch list, despite being seen by three other local birders here, Matt included!

A juvenile Stonechat at Bonhurst Farm yesterday was an early record of a species that’s surprisingly rare here, with only one or two records a year. The showy individual presumably started its life not so far away, with Blackheath and Winterfold possibilities. It was busy eating insects along the fences, and with a decent count of 12 Pied Wagtails there today, I have high (relatively, for here) hopes of bagging a Whinchat at the same site later in the month/into September.
Raven, Broomy Down, 10/8/2018/

The other new bird for the year was Tree Pipit, and there has in fact been two records in the last fortnight. Again, these are very early dates, and probably involve semi-local birds moving around. I must confess that the hoarse tzeep of an overflying Tree Pipit is one of my favourite sounds of the year here, not just of early autumn, and with only a couple of records annually it’s always a treat.

Aside from these headliners, the supporting cast has been fairly tidy too. Willow Warblers are naturally being picked up more and more now, and I counted at least four at New Barn yesterday, where I was unable blag a Pied among the five Spotted Flycatchers there. The latter seem to be everywhere on patch at this time of year, and I had two at Winkworth this morning also. A Crossbill sub-singing towards Nore Hanger was a decent notebook entry yesterday (there were also two flyovers past Broomy Down on 4th), as was a family party of Firecrests at Scotsland Brook and female Red-crested Pochard at Mill Pond on 5th.

Spotted Flycatcher, New Barn, 11/8/2018.
A Peregrine past Broomy Down and Junction Field on 4th was very welcome, with this falcon, that’s fairly regular in Surrey these days, remaining scarce at best here. Indeed, it was just the second record of 2018, quite staggering when compared with Whimbrel; yet another numenius phaeopus was recorded on nocmig on 7th, making it the fourth record this year. This is demonstrative of the shape-shifting and mind-blowing powers of nocmig. Formerly a real patch mega, presumably Whimbrels are in fact fairly regular – albeit in small numbers – passing overhead during both spring and autumn.

Abel B pinned down the suddenly-elusive Little Owl pair at Thorncombe Park on 2nd. These owls charmed myself and visiting birders with their showiness last year, but for some reason have become very hard to catch up with. Perhaps the increased nearby nesting of corvids and raptors is why. Tawny Owls however seem to have had a very good year, and most nocmig sessions are frequently punctuated with various calls of this species.

Anyway, August has started well, and the month of rare consistency for here seems to be on course to deliver again. What more? Well, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff numbers are set to peak next weekend of 18th and 19th, which are also the respective August dates of migrant Wood Warblers in both 2016 and 2017.

Willow Warbler (left) and Chiffchaff, New Barn, 11/8/2018.
Consequently one of them is high on the radar, and as the weeks go on the chance of the first Redstart since 2015 increases, and Pied Fly won’t leave the possibility pile just yet. A decent raptor is due this year that’s for sure – maybe a late August Osprey or Marsh Harrier. And of course, that magic something could be just round the corner. Indeed, mid-August through to late September is the optimum time for that magical, most highly-desired emberiza nocmig gold dust.