Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Sunday, 24 January 2016

23rd January

Thorncombe Street


Danger at Mill Pond
Aside from a fry-up, birding is perhaps one of the best hangover cures. It had a job to do for me on Saturday, as I headed out for a couple of hours with Matt Phelps in the middle of the day. First up on the patch was Mill Pond, where wildfowl numbers remained high despite the increase in temperature, following the huge counts in the week.

There were at least 50 Teal, 15 Shoveler, 44 Tufted Ducks and 20+ Mandarins, as well as the party of 6 Greylag Geese that have been around recently, seen at Mill Pond on Monday and Winkworth on Friday. Bizarrely, two signs warning people of the resident Mute Swans 'aggressive' behaviour had been erected - in all my years of coming down here, I've never known them to be particularly confrontational.

Scotsland Farm/Great Brook was the next port of call, and it wasn't long until we stumbled across a roving Tit flock. A Marsh Tit was heard, and then located, before another joined. They were avidly picking away at moss on the trees, presumably finding insects, and Matt managed to get some photos as they occasionally showed well. No doubt more were in the deeper parts of the woods. Big numbers of Treecreepers and Nuthatches were also present.

I'd hoped to stumble across a Woodcock here, and add it to my year list, but there was no joy. So, typically, on the drive back, as my eyes were down looking at my phone, Matt called "Woodock!". We got out for a quick search but couldn't relocate the bird - keep alert at all times on the patch!

Godalming area


Witley Common Great Grey Shrike today (MF)
Earlier in the day we'd popped to Unstead Sewage Farm, where there was little of note, though a singing Chiffchaff (1 of at least 3 on the site) was exceptionally early. 

Today (24th) it seems two Great Grey Shrikes were in the area, with records from both Witley Common (MF, picture attached) and Thursley Common (SM) in the afternoon. At Shalford Water Meadows 2 Little Egrets flew over, and a female Stonechat was present (MP).

Thursday, 21 January 2016

21st January

Thorncombe Street

For the first time this year, I was able to give pretty much my whole patch a good visit, or at least the key areas. With temperatures plummeting below zero the last few days I've managed to quickly check Mill Pond a few times, one of the only water bodies in the area that doesn't fully freeze. This brings in big numbers of wildfowl, and yesterday (20th) I obtained a patch record count of Teal, 85 at least.

This morning was noticeably milder, and I was at Mill Pond not long after dawn. The air was filled with the bell-like incessancy of Teal. It was clear big numbers were present again, with only the southern end unfrozen, and my first scope count revealed over 100. Another check, and, remarkably, I had 116. A huge number for a small body of water! Mill Pond is a roost site for many ducks, and it seems the cold snap has forced big numbers in from elsewhere, perhaps the flood meadows of the Wey. 12 Shoveler, and at least 40 Mandarin were also present.

On the drive to Rowe Barn Farm an Egyptian Goose was prominent for being perched high in a cedar tree, and once walking up to the Ridge I quickly found myself among big numbers of Finches and Buntings. Most were Reed Buntings (30+), but to my surprise there were at least 25 Bramblings, in flocks of around 12 on each side of the path. They were noisy, and mobile, and easily the highest count I've had up there.

Looking over Upper Bonhurst from Junction Fields
Furze Field was somewhat quiet, with the most notable records coming from the outside, including a heard only Red-legged Partridge and a noisy Raven cronking west above the trees. At Junction Fields at least 40 Fieldfares were with many more Redwings, and I took in the view as the sky began to brighten, Common Gulls drifting over as they had been throughout the morning.

Upper Bonhurst was also fairly bird-less, until my attention was drawn to a calling Yellowhammer in the orchard. Uncommon winter visitors, with less than 10 records last year, I was pleased to add this beautiful species to my year list. I couldn't locate it, but once I'd checked Birtley House Pond and was walking back 2 more called above my head. I then heard another, and managed to get on a gorgeous male sitting in a willow. Another, or one of the previous birds, called overhead as I walked back up Junction Fields.

It was then onto Scotsland Farm/Great Brook, with big numbers of birds present. 10+ each of Treecreeper and Nutchatch were seen, and 40+ Siskins included 2 singing males. The best bird was a calling Marsh Tit, sadly one that didn't show, though it was probably pipped to the best animal title, that going to a Stoat running through the undergrowth. This remnant of a female Pheasant was also found on the woodland floor.
Former female Pheasant (part of)

Sunday, 17 January 2016

17th January

Thorncombe Street

Waking up to snow was a surprise this morning, and it was coming down thick and fast as I made my way to the patch. The valley always looks particularly magical in the snow, and last time it fell here, in February of last year, I had 3 Brent Geese fly over my head.

Allden's Hill in the snow earlier today
From Allden's Hill visibility was reduced, with the snow falling heavily. The first stop was Rowe Barn Farm, where plenty of Thrushes were feeding on the holly. About 20 vocal Common Gulls drifted overhead, almost all north, seemingly disgruntled by the sudden lack of green fields to feed on. 2 Red Kites were over towards Slade's Farm, one perched in a dead tree, the other looking resplendent as it glided in the dropping flakes.

Upon reaching the top of the Ridge it was clear the Finch/Bunting flock had increased. Surely 50 Reed Buntings, at least, were joined by Chaffinches, Linnets and Goldfinches, many of them feeding on the niger seed I'd spread close to the footpath on the north side on Thursday. This allowed close up views of the flock, though I couldn't pick out any Yellowhammers or Bramblings. Aside from some calling Siskin Furze Field was quiet, and with fog descending on the Ridge I decided to climb down, a Raven cronking in the sleety gloom as I left.

Wildfowl numbers on Mill Pond normally increase significantly in severe weather, and it was no surprise to see high numbers of Teal (30+), Shoveler (c.8), Mandarin (30+) and Tufted Ducks (40+).

Later in the day Matt Phelps witnessed some cold winter movement at Winkworth, with 9 Crossbills south being the first of the year, and indeed the first in the area since November. 8 Bramblings also flew over, with another calling on the deck, and Firecrest was present by the boathouse.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

12th January

Thorncombe Street

As per normal on a Tuesday, a quick visit to Mill Pond before work, and an absolutely gorgeous morning had the valley soaked in chilly, winter sunshine; something that has been missing so far this winter.

Mill Pond was lively again, with the notable species Tufted Duck, of which about 30 were present. Several Mandarins, a handful of Teal and 3+ Shoveler were also on the water. Further south, on East Waters pond, I patch ticked Grey Heron for the year, with a 1st-winter bird on the western edge.

On the way back I stopped off at Allden's Hill briefly, and as I got out the car 9 Red-legged Partridges were flushed from a small crop close to the road. Moments later, a further 7 took off and landed on the slope, with the light catching their creamy cheeks. This species seems to have had a successful winter - normally they are elusive and low in numbers at this time, the end of the shooting season. It took until the 17th of January before I recorded any last year, and I had no more than 3 before February, whereas I have had counts of 8 (4th) and now 16 in the first fortnight of 2016. With the last shoot at Wintershall commencing this weekend, Red-legged Partridges seem to have done well.

Godalming area

The Great Grey Shrike at Thursley Common was reported again today, this time south of Shrike Hill at 15:30. Nearby, on the Forked Pond, 4 Goosander were reported.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

10th January

Thorncombe Street

Restricted time on the patch during the past few days, though wildfowl numbers were up on Mill Pond on the 8th, with c.8 Teal, 3+ Shoveler, 24 Tufted Ducks and at least 25 Mandarin, many displaying drakes within the flock of latter species. On the drive a Red Kite was seen from the car, with 2 Red-legged Partridges on Allden's Hill.

Godalming area

8th: Little Egrets continue to frequent the flooded meadows adjacent to the River Wey, with 1 on the Lammas Lands and another further north, on the Flooded Field at Unstead Sewage Farm. It was at this latter site that I saw 2 Ravens flying east over the works (viewed from Unstead Lane), a long overdue site tick for me.

9th: At Frensham Little Pond a Bittern flew to into the south-west corner at 09:10. There were 2 Little Egrets in Hells Ditch on the Lammas Lands.

10th: My first fairly thorough search of Unstead Sewage Farm of the year was fruitful, At least 2 Chiffchaffs were present, 1 showing briefly. This species overwinters at this site with the occasional Tristis bird having been found down the years. A remarkable 20+ Goldcrests were also taking advantage of the bounty of insects in the hedgerows and bushes adjacent to the works. On the Dry Lagoon, 3 Shoveler were joined by up to 8 Reed Buntings, with Teal heard from the direction of Roy's Marsh.

The South Meadow held plenty of Wrens and Dunnocks, and what was surely a Cetti's Warbler was seen every so briefly, skulking in the vegetation. A long tail and chestnut plumage was noted in flight, but frustratingly the bird never called. 2 Water Rails did, however, with 1 showing itself as it was flushed only a foot or so from the footpath. A Peregrine was seen distantly, over towards the Flooded Field, putting up a load of corvids, before flying off NW, wrapping up a very good haul.

Elsewhere today, the 2 Little Egrets were reported again from Hells Ditch, and a Green Sandpiper and 3 Woodcock were seen at Shalford water meadows, the former near Broadford Marsh.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

7th January

Godalming area

Both with the morning off, Robin Stride and I made a late decision to take a trip to Thursley Common, mainly in search of the Great Grey Shrike, which had been back in the area for another winter since October 18th.

Anyone who's tried to see the Shrike at Thursley will be aware that this highly mobile species isn't the easiest to pin down. I took several attempts last winter before seeing it, and when I finally did, I ended up off the boardwalk and in a bog (another story for another day!). It also seems this particular bird moves around Thursley, Frensham Common and Hankley Common, but with the forecast looking good we were optimistic.

We arrived at The Moat car park at about 08:30 in rain. It eased off, we headed out, and it rained again. Not ideal at Thursley. However, not long on the boardwalk towards Pine Island, we saw the bird flying east over Shrike Hill, so we set off in that direction. On the way 2 huge, adult Great Black-backed Gulls drifted south-west (as well as some Lesser Redpoll), but when we got to Shrike Hill there was no sign of our target.

It was then off to the tumulus, a vantage I enjoyed both Merlin and Hen Harrier from last year, and after about 50 minutes (during which nice views of Stonechats and Dartford Warblers were obtained) we relocated the Great Grey Shrike, perched atop a gorse bush some distance away. The weather may not have been favouring us but the birds levels of bravery were, and it flew directly towards the mound, stopping off on the occasional bush or dead tree. Eventually, it landed in a birch behind us, about 10 feet away, and we took in stunning views as it preened, revealing the small white wing patches briefly, and its striking outer tail feathers.

Having coughed up a pellet the Shrike flew off west, and knowing we wouldn't get better views, we headed to the car. On the journey back we stopped off at a couple of sites, and although Long Pond Field (flooded area opposite Busbridge Lakes) held surprisingly little, we enjoyed a Raven tumbling slowly west over Tuesley Farm. For me, memories of finding them so close to home, a few years ago now, and the intrigue of their whereabouts, gave me a real urge to get back out on my patch. It also capped off an enjoyable morning with Robin.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

5th January

Thorncombe Street

Having not given the patch a proper working since Boxing Day, I was able to get out for a decent session before work this morning, the sunshine joining me after days of rain.

On the drive to Mill Pond I noticed 6 gulls in the field at Ham Lands - all Common Gulls - the first I've had on the deck since last spring. This species has interested me as, last year, the numbers feeding on the fields rose and rose until an incredible crescendo of over 150 in March. These birds may well roost on the coast, some 40 miles directly south, and work their way north as the winter goes on, exhausting the farmland through Sussex and south Surrey before reaching Thorncombe Street. I expect the numbers to rise as the weeks go on, and it wasn't surprising to see 6 flying N over the Ridge later in the morning.

My main aim was to check the mixed finch and bunting flock on the Ridge, and as I was climbing up I could hear Reed Buntings (8 in total), Goldfinches (10+) and Chaffinches (c.30). Upon reaching the top, and taking in the beautiful, fog-shrouded valley, it didn't take long to find a Brambling, with a female showing well on the south side. Another female was in the hedge near the Pheasant feeder on the north side, and there were at least 10 Greenfinches present, good numbers following on from the big flock yesterday.

2 Red Kites were loitering on the south side, to the angst of the local Jackdaws, and 26 Black-headed Gulls flew high south, no doubt with their eyes on the south coast. A pair of Egyptian Geese flying north over Rowe Barn Farm rounded off a decent morning.


The drake Goosander at Cutt Mill this morning (D Carlsson)
Godalming area

The overwintering Great Grey Shrike was seen again at Thursley Common this morning, with the bird reported near Shrike Hill at 09:30 (DCs).

Nearby, at Cutt Mill, there were 4 Goosander (1 drake), down from 7 on the 3rd and 9 on New Year's Day (DCs).




Monday, 4 January 2016

4th January

Thorncombe Street

A fairly flying visit around the site after work. Mill Pond remains eerily quiet (great contrast to this time 12 months ago). The mild weather doesn't help, but perhaps recent shoots have scared away some of the birds? Not a Shoveler or Teal in sight, so attentions turned to around the water, and a Firecrest was doing it's best to distract me from finding any wildfowl, making lots of noise in the trees on the north side. I only saw it briefly, despite relentless calling from the same ivy-clad tree.

The most remarkable record was flock of at least 50 Greenfinch in the trees bordering the pond. I haven't seen numbers like that for many years, but a 'scope scan revealed almost all of the group to be this species, with a few Siskin and Bullfinch present. A drive down Thorncombe Street resulted in a Raven in flight and, pleasingly, 8 Red-legged Partridges, particularly elusive at this time of year as the remaining birds seek hiding places.

Godalming area

The Wey water meadows are exceptionally flooded at the moment, and only a dry afternoon prevented certain river overflowing today. At Unstead Sewage Farm there were 3 Little Egrets in the Flooded Field, and 4 more were reported from the Catteshall Lammas Lands (I had 6 at Unstead yesterday). Over 40 Canada Geese and c.250 Black-headed Gulls were among the other birds.

Further up the river a Woodcock and 2 Snipe were at Shalford Water Meadows at last light, with 5 Egyptian Geese over (MP).