Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Thanks Guys

Common Buzzard, Broomy Down, 19/5/2018
This is a short post just to big up the local birds on my patch. Sure, it's frustrating and a bit of a grind when you don't find something unusual, or if a visit is quiet, but I'm lucky to have a decent cast of locals. Some visit in the winter months, others the summer, and a few are year-round residents.

So, to you the low-flying Red Kite, and you the loudly cronking Raven, thank you. You're normally hidden under the winter crop, but Brambling and Yellowhammer, I appreciate the frequency of your winter vacations on the Ridge. And yes you may be a little on the dull side, but Spotted Flycatcher, I really enjoy watching your forays to and from the wires of Selhurst Common.

Of course, those extra special species that can't even be mentioned here, thank you for choosing this quiet part of south-east England to reproduce. I appreciate you all, and indeed if it wasn't for a lot of you I'd probably have sacked off many a mind-numbingly dull session before. Do stick around, or return in a few months, or make the trip back again next spring.
Kentish Plover, Dungeness RSPB, 20/5/2018

Yes, post-Turtle Dove fiesta, it's been back to feeling like high summer. But that's OK. I mixed things up today with a planned Terek Sandpiper raid at Rye, but naturally the bird had moved on overnight (maybe I'll pick it up on noc-mig!). A deviation to Dungeness salvaged the day somewhat, with a smart male Kentish Plover, displaying Marsh Harriers, a brief Hoopoe and some other niceties providing a continental flavour.

Spring's probably done locally, bar odds and sods. Next stop, Iceland, and then over to you butterflies and breeders for the next month or two.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018


Time off the intense patch routine during the past week has worked wonders and, ironically, it’s delivered the best (non-nocmig) birds of the spring – two Turtle Doves, which flew over Goose Green this morning. The aforementioned patch break has included a successful Mole Valley Bird Race, and a day-trip to north-west France, but most importantly a birding refresh for myself.
Turtle Dove, Réserve Romelaëre, France 

The Mole Valley Bird Race was the 3rd I’ve taken part in, with Matt P, Stuart C, Wes A and I making up team Linnet To Win It. We managed 89 species, 4 down on 2017 but pretty good going given rain set in for the day from lunchtime. It turned out to be a winning total, with David S’s team coming in 2nd with 83 (another good haul).

Wes is an exceptional birder, and his local knowledge is both invaluable and the key reason we made it a third successive victory. Our best birds were probably Crossbill, Little Ringed Plover and Lesser Whitethroat, though David C had Hawfinch and a dodgy Barnacle Goose, and David S’s team managed a Goshawk. I look forward to next year.

The opportunity of a day’s birding in north-west France was too good to turn down, and so I joined David C, David DL and Magnus A for an early start to catch the Eurotunnel to Calais. Unfortunately, a gusty north wind and heavy cloud blighted the trip somewhat, but fun company and a sprinkling of nice birds made the excursion very worthwhile.

Marsh Warbler, Guines Marsh.
The best species was probably a Marsh Warbler, atypically singing at Guines Marsh and consequently proving a tricky ID until it showed. Other decent bits included singing Bluethroats, 9 Spoonbills, a group of 4 Black Terns, a smart drake Garganey and a male Hen Harrier. Turtle Doves were pleasingly noted at a few different sites. Sadly, I couldn’t tempt the boys to visit the beautiful, plastic-fantastic Reeves’s Pheasant population at Foret d’Hesdin.

My first patch visit after all that wasn’t until this morning, when I teamed up with Abel B. My motivation for strategic site visits has been much diminished over the past few weeks, so I left it to him to pick where we went – he chose well!

After connecting with a/the Woodlark at Selhurst Common (a patch tick for him, and surely evidence that breeding is being attempted), we parked up at Goose Green with a view to walk to Scrubbin’s Pond and back. Whilst halfway across the main field below the pond, I picked up two doves heading south.

The flicky, rapid flight style and evidently dark underwing (taught nicely by David DL in France) was enough to get us excited, and as the birds banked a little the rufous-brown scalloping on the upperparts could be seen, confirming them as Turtle Doves. After watching them for a minute or two they disappeared towards Dunsfold.

Greenfinch, Wintershall Estate, 13/5/2018.
As mentioned before, I think this particularly favourite species of mine hangs on somewhere in outer Surrey. A Turtle Dove was at Tugley Wood, Chiddingfold on Monday, and I’d be delighted to encounter some more locally this year. After 1 sighting in 2015 and 2 in 2016 here, there were none last year. Later on a pair of Collared Doves provided us with a very nice flight comparison.

A little bit of a salvage of this poor spring, and combined with the enjoyable away days, it’s been a recuperating week.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Montagu's or Capulets?

I recently found out the bitterly disappointing decision by the Surrey Bird Club Rarities Committee that my male Montagu’s Harrier, that cruised high over Allden’s Hill on May 7th two years ago, has been deemed non-proven. Aside from the deflation such a verdict causes, it also presents a mild dilemma as to the historic list of birds recorded here.

The Monty's over Allden's Hill, as depicted by my 
girlfriend for the 2016 report front cover.
After all my other submissions (Cattle Egrets, Honey-buzzard, White-fronted Geese etc) were accepted in the February meeting I decided that, after some long thought, I’d align the Thorncombe Street list with the birds that will officially go in the historical Surrey database. This meant a farewell to the putative Little Bunting Matt and I heard and saw on the Ridge in 2015, and of course left the Monty’s in the balance.

If I’m truthful, I was quietly confident of the Harrier being accepted. I thought the description was detailed and honest, and the clarity of what I saw remains a joyful playback in my mind whenever I choose to relive it (which is often!). It’s without a doubt my patch high. I now must choose whether I take it off the site list, but such an action seems both ridiculous and very hard to do, given the nature of the encounter.

As for future rarity submissions, we’ll see. There’s no doubt Surrey has had (and continues to have) birders who don’t submit all their descriptions due to what they perceive as questionable decision-making processes. I await the rationale of the Montagu’s decision with interest.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Out with a Whimper

3 patch Whimbrels in a week is a bit ridiculous, especially given there were only 3 historical records previously. However, this is the wonder of noc-mig, which captured 2 of these individuals as they called over Allden’s Hill at 23:13 on the 3rd and 02:39 on the 7th respectively.

Whimbrel, Broomy Down, 6/5/2018.
The other record was a silent bird over Broomy Down early on the 6th. Really staggering stuff, and it makes me wonder both how many I missed here, and how many have moved over the local area/county, during the past week. Clearly, it’s peak movement time for this particular species, and interestingly no other waders have been recorded.

Such a fascinating discovery has been in keeping with the spring so far. Indeed, the past week or so has largely continued the 2018 theme of nocmig offering excitement, with the daylight birding being substandard and at times frustrating. The weather this weekend was great for sunbathing, but it was just too nice and clear for birds, with any migrants out of sight. Indeed, at times it felt like high-summer...

Exasperation reached a pretty high level on Saturday 5th when, at 11:20, what was surely a Stork species glided northeast at a ridiculous height. An elongated neck, heavy, clearly fingered wings and general massive-ness against the couple of Buzzards it passed had me ditch the bins for the camera, and of course I lost the bird in the process.
Hobby, Broomy Down, 6/5/2018.

I’ve seen both species of European stork many times before, and have little doubt that this was indeed one, but there’s nothing I could do. To be fair, it was probably too high for a photo or conclusive ID anyway. Another one that got away, and incredibly, not the most painful moment of the weekend!

That came on Monday morning. In total over the Bank Holiday weekend I put in 13.5 hours sky-watching (and several extra working the deck), with little results bar the Whimbrel and a late-ish Yellow Wagtail. So, whilst immensely happy for the boys up the tower, it was gripping at the least when they had 4 (yes 4!) Great Skuas drift south past Leith Hill at around 08:30.

A phenomenal record, possibly the best birds ever to be recorded over the tower, and of course the stuff of dreams for any Surrey birder. Unfortunately, I stood no chance of getting on them, given the direction they flew in and the light. That’s how it goes sometimes, and I probably did myself no favours by relenting with the patch.
Stoat, Ridge, 3rd May 2018.

A break of some level may be needed. A Spotted Flycatcher yesterday in fact yielded, incredibly, the last summer migrant to arrive. It all happened in a couple of weeks. It's time to go back to just enjoying what is around, and avoiding patch overkill and burnout.

I’ve planned a trip away (Iceland), and will take my foot off the patch gas, maybe for a week or so, or maybe longer. The World Cup and new musical focuses will doubtless help restore a nice balance, and I’m sure the natural patch enjoyment will return soon.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018


There’s been more Crossbill records than normal this year, but I was still pretty surprised to see a family part of seven birds yesterday morning. The flock alighted in a larch on the northern edge of Nore Hanger (a large copse that adjoins Hascombe Hill to the south), before flying north.

Crossbills, Nore Hanger, 1/5/2018.
Hascombe Hill has historically been a good site for Crossbills. Indeed, a Surrey high count of a couple of hundred in the 80's is listed in Wheatley (don't have the exact data to hand), and whenever I encounter the species on patch it’s almost always in the south of the site.

Crossbills can breed early in the year (even in the winter), making the most of pine cone numbers. Nevertheless, after a poor winter for Common Crossbills (not Parrot!) locally and nationally, this success comes as a welcome and unexpected breeding record.

Of course, there’s no knowing exactly where they bred (and if it was within patch boundaries), but it can’t have been far away…

Monday, 30 April 2018

Pretty Visitors

Wheatears, Bonhurst Farm, 28/4/2018.
Finally a decent weekend on patch, with fall conditions on Friday into Saturday producing several highlights, including no less than 4 new birds for the year. The best of these was the remarkable number of Wheatears – 8 birds over the 2 days, including a record count of 5 on Sunday. The first Garden Warblers also arrived, as well as the earliest ever records of Swift and Hobby.

Every year is the same with Wheatears. You check the ideal looking sites (the Ridge, Bonhurst and Slades Farm) again and again, until finally perseverance pays off. This year it was very much London bus-style – a group of 3 visited Bonhurst for an hour or so on Saturday afternoon, before a single female at Ridings Brook (weirdly in an Ash!) on Sunday and another flock of 4 at Bonhurst later in the day.

Garden Warblers also turned up, among a marked sylvia arrival on Sunday. Plenty more Whitethroats and Willow Warblers too were in voice, along with Cuckoos, though I've still to catch up with the latter species. The Garden Warblers brought my list for 2018 up to 100, always a nice milestone, though it's the 106th species recorded here this year (Hobby making it 107 on Sunday).
Garden Warbler, New Barn, 29/4/2018.

2 Swifts north early on Saturday certainly weren’t on the radar – this is an earliest arrival by 7 days, and coming in drizzly and cold conditions was a bit of a surprise to see. A single Hobby on Sunday was another early record, by 8 days. The behaviour suggested it was in fact one of the returning local birds.

4 Lapwings moved north-west on Sunday too, but despite a vigil from Broomy Down I didn't manage to connect with any Bar-tailed Godwits - flocks of 31 (Walton Reservoirs) and 36 (Richmond Park) had graced Surrey skies earlier in the day. Sunday was a windy and cold affair, unlike the slightly more settled conditions of Friday and Saturday - these had produced little wind and rain, which resulted in the falls of migrants both locally and across the country.

Pied Flycatcher, Shalford water meadows, 28/4/2018.
In these conditions on Saturday I made the brief excursion to Shalford water meadows where Kit B had dug out a real local rare, in the shape of a female Pied Flycatcher. Sadly it was on private land, but given it’s active and elusive behaviour it would have been difficult for others to connect with anyway. Seemingly a brief visitor, the bird had moved on by Sunday - a really great find for Kit, and a species I'd love to unearth here.

April has delivered a lot of new species for the year, but in truth the daytime birds have been the usual spring fare. Noc-mig has provided the 5-star moments, with Common Scoter early in the month being rivalled by an Avocet for bird of the year. The individual in question flew over Allden’s Hil, during the warm spell, on the 20th, uttering it's flight call twice.

I thought Avocet from the off, and the consensus agreed when I shared the clip. The call and (crucially) the spectrogram match really nicely with this great recording of a nocturnally migrating Avocet by Joost van Bruggen. In the adjacent picture, my spectrogram is the pink on blue, and his the black on white.
Nocturnal Avocet spectrograms

With the recent removal of Little Bunting from the Thorncombe Street list Avocet becomes the 153rd species recorded here. All great stuff, but there's no denying the lunar birding has eclipsed the solar sessions this spring. Hopefully during the classically productive first couple of weeks of May I can find some special, daylight pretty visitors?

Friday, 27 April 2018

A Long Weekend In Andalucia

A few days in southern Spain was a welcome respite from what's been a patch slog this spring, with a typically fantastic cast of birds. In the company of David, Matt, Robin and Wes we tallied up 158 species, including some strong raptor migration over the Straits - over 3000 birds, with 11 species involved.

I could wax lyrical about the trip and area, but instead I'll run through it chronologically via some photos below.

Our first full day saw us head to the east side of the Rio Guadalquivir, and the fringes of the simply epic Donana National Park, where we focused our attention on the saltpans, rice fields and pools around Bonanza.

Great Reed Warbler, Bonanza Pools, 22/4/2018

Greater Flamingos, Bonanza Pools, 22/4/2018

Western Bonelli's Warbler, Bonanza Pools, 22/4/2018.
Bonanza pools are a collection of rather unimpressive looking ponds, next to a factory and fly-tipping site. Despite this, the first (and largest) pool had the below three species, including 24 White-headed Ducks. Also present was a Great Reed Warbler and several Red-crested Pochards.
White-headed Duck, Bonanza Pools, 22/4/2018.
Black-crowed Night-Heron, Bonanza Pools, 22/4/2018.
Western (Purple) Swamphen, Bonanza Pools, 22/4/2018.
The saltpans held loads of Greater Flamingoes, waders and gulls (mainly Slender-billed). Little and Caspian Terns were knocking about too. We also heard our only Western Olivaceous Warbler of the trip here, and plenty of raptors were overhead

Greater Flamingoes and Slender-billed Gulls, Bonanza Saltpans, 22/4/2018.

Kentish Plover keeping an eye on a passing Booted Eagle, Bonanza Saltpans, 22/4/2018.
We then moved up towards Los Portugueses Saltpans/Guadalquivir estuary marshes, passing a fence had a Western Black-eared Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike, Whinchat and Common Cuckoo on it.

Western Black-eared and Northern Wheatears, Guadalquivir marshes, 22/4/2018.
Western Cattle Egret, Guadalquivir marshes, 22/4/2018. Slightly better than my photos of the patch birds last year
Western Cattle Egret, Guadalquivir marshes, 22/4/2018.
Personally, the main target at Los Portugueses Saltpans/Guadalquivir marshes was Marbled Duck. Not only a lifer for me, this is a species I've always wanted to see in the wild, ever since visiting the 'Iraqi Wetland' site at Arundel WWT as a kid. We saw 5+ birds, but sadly they were all either distant or elusive. The most obvious species here was Western Yellow Wagtail  - on the trip we recorded 3 subspecies, flavaiberiae and, notably, feldegg.

Marbled Duck, Guadalqivir marshes, 22/4/2018.
Western Yellow Wagtail (flava), Guadalquivir marshes, 22/4/2018.
Having enjoyed an extremely productive time around Donana, we headed back south and inland to an area of open farmland near Benalup. This type of habitat is perhaps by favourite - loads of vistas, big open spaces and, as we were in Spain, birds to go with it. The main target was Little Bustard, which was eventually found after a bit of searching. In fact, a male unusually decided to display out in the open, which allowed for decent scope views. A male Montagu's Harrier passed over at one point, and both species (which are easily two of my favourites) were briefly viewable together in binoculars

Displaying Little Bustard, near Benalup, 22/4/2018.
To end the day we visited the similar habitat (slightly more hilly) near Cantarranas, where Black-winged Kite was eventually seen, close to dusk. Calandra Larks and a Melodious Warbler were also seen here.

Calandra Lark, near Cantarranas, 22/4/2018.

Black-winged Kite, near Cantarras, 22/4/2018.
Day three was raptor migration watching, and we had the fortune of being able to do it from our accommodation garden! In just over 3 hours we had a staggering 375 Booted Eagles, 222 Griffon Vultures, 131 Black Kites, 20 Egyptian Vultures, 32 European Honey-buzzards, 3 Short-toed Eagles, 2 Western Ospreys, 1 Western Marsh Harrier, 1 Montagu's Harrier, 1 Common Buzzard, 1 Common Kestrel and 5 Eurasian Sparrowhawks!

Pale-morph Booted Eagle, El Curaton, 23/4/2018.

Egyptian Vulture, El Curaton, 23/4/2018.
Griffon Vulture, El Curaton, 23/4/2018.

European Honey-buzzard, El Curaton, 23/4/2018.
Later in the day we visited the introduced Northern Bald Ibis colony near La Barca de Vejer. After this, we headed up to neighbouring Vejer. This attractive town up on a hill holds a colony of Lesser Kestrels, which we watched from a car park that looked out west towards the coast.

Northern Bald Ibis, La Barca de Vejer, 23/4/2018.
Lesser Kestrel, Vejer, 23/4/2018.
To end the day we visited Bolonia, famous for hosting Europe's first breeding White-rumped Swifts. We were too early in the year for these, but did manage to see a few Blue Rock Thrushes, some closeup Griffon Vultures, a Subalpine Warbler and, best of all, a distant Iberian Green Woodpecker (we heard 3+ in total).
Blue Rock Thrush, Bolonia, 23/4/2018.
The final day was again spent watching the raptors cross the strait, and from the beach near Tarifa we counted a crazy 2600+ Black Kites. Crested Larks, Northern Wheatears and a Short-toed Treecreeper were recorded near our watch point, and several Black Storks flew over too.
Crested Lark, Tarifa beach, 24/4/2018.

Black Kite, Tarifa beach, 24/4/2018.
Northern Wheatear, Tarifa beach, 24/4/2018.
On our way to the airport we stopped off in the Grazalema nation park, where we saw some final target species, including Rock Bunting and Black Wheatear. The comfortable highlight, however, was the remarkable discovery of a Bonelli's Eagle on the nest, complete with chicks. A great end to the trip.
Bonelli's Eagle, Grazalema national park, 24/4/2018.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Perhaps Dreadful Is a Bit Strong But...

Well the first period of spring is done. I’m off to Spain for a few days where, to be honest, I’m looking forward to just seeing some birds. The weather has been glorious the past couple of days but, in terms of migrant birds, it’s simply a long-awaited invitation to get on with their journeys, and not hang about. Consequently, the patch has been very quiet indeed, adding to the dreadful theme of this spring.
Common Tern, Broomy Down, 18/4/2018.

The last two morning sessions have been particularly poor, with nothing of note. In fairness the 18th was lively – the earliest ever Common Terns a highlight as they journeyed high east over Broomy Down. There’d been huge numbers moving east along the south coast the previous day, and with a strong southerly blowing overnight, perhaps their appearance wasn’t such a surprise.

The first Whitethroat of the year was also in voice on the Ridge, and a couple of Willow Warblers were singing. However, it’s been shocking for the latter this spring – just 3 birds! A Lapwing over in the evening was nice, though it failed to mask the continued poor spring.

Hirundines are still very thin on the ground, and Sand Martin now looks like a write-off until the autumn. Wheatear will seemingly be very tough too, despite most county sites having birds. By this time last year Yellow Wagtail and Garden Warbler were also in, but the most concerning absentee is Cuckoo.

Broomy Down, 18/4/2018.
A male has returned on almost the same day for the last 3 years at least, singing for a couple of weeks in April and early May from Allden’s Hill and the Ridge. There’s been no site nor sound so far this year – maybe this long-distance migrant hasn’t made it back this year? Or maybe, hopefully, he’s just been delayed by the weather. It’d be odd though, given plenty of other Surrey Cuckoos are in…

Despite this pessimism the local summer migrants are never particularly early in returning here, even in a Surrey context. However, the reality is it’s been disappointing so far, and at times a bit of a chore. As a result it’s hoped, more so than previous campaigns, than the optimum ‘last week of April/first week of May’ (much vaunted in in the birding world) will deliver this year.