Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 29 February 2016

29th February

The last day of February. March, to me, is the start of Spring, and it really won't be long until Swallows and Wheatears will be added to patch lists across the country. It very much felt like the back end of winter, despite the recent cold temperatures, with Rowe Barn Farm akin to the departures lounge of an airport late this afternoon.

Winter Thrush numbers have been building for the last couple of weeks (80+ Fieldfare around Upper Bonhurst on Friday), and the fields at Rowe Barn and Slade's Farm were littered with Redwings today. There were at least 180 around, quietly chattering to themselves whist feeding on the ground, filling up before the big movement north. Joining the Redwings were other species either en route to or preparing to set off to northern breeding grounds. A flock of about 20 Starlings were flitting around the fields, a higher than usual number of Blackbirds, Song and Mistle Thrushes, and at least 2 Meadow Pipits, the latter very much a passage migrant here, and only my second 2016 record.
The north-facing sacrificial crop on the Ridge - currently
 hosting hundreds of Finches and Buntings

The mixed Finch/Bunting flock on the Ridge continues to get bigger and bigger. I noticed a few Linnets today, oddly scarce so far this winter, as well as at least 22 Bramblings and 30+ Goldfinches. As I arrived at the top I flushed about 60 birds up from the north facing crop, and a noticeably pale bird caught my eye as it joined the others in flying to the top of a nearby Ash.

Snow Bunting first came to mind, but I couldn't relocate the individual initially. However, as soon as I picked up a Lesser Redpoll high in the branches, I found it - another, paler Redpoll slightly further up to the left. The plumage tone was different, but that was just about all I could manage before most of the birds, including the Redpolls, flew off to the east. Interestingly, I've only had 1 Lesser Redpoll all year

One that got away perhaps, though I'm not sure I could be fully confident in ID-ing a Mealy unless I had good views of one with Lessers. Who knows, maybe it's scheduled departure isn't just yet, and I'll re-find it?

Thursday, 25 February 2016

25th February

A dawn start, and the Common Gulls had already arrived en masse from their presumed north Surrey/London reservoirs roost, and they were prominent throughout the day. At least 200 must have been in the valley, with about 30 Black-heads, but no other species of gull. The usual fare was noted throughout, though noticeably less raptors and Ravens than compared to recent days, no doubt because of the low temperature this morning. There were 9 Red-legged Partridges, seen at various places, including Rowe Barn Farm, the Ridge, Upper Bonhurst and Allden's Hill.

Brambling on the Ridge
The Finch/Bunting flock on the Ridge is getting seriously big. More than average numbers of Reed Buntings, Greenfinches and Goldfinches were present, as well as a decent haul of 12 Bramblings, particularly vociferous today. I took some rubbish shots of a male, so the picture used is courtesy of Dave Carlsson, who visited a couple of times last week, producing some fantastic images, which I've placed in the photos section. Yellowhammer numbers were also high, 16 being my highest count of the year, and there were even a couple males singing. Sadly, this delightful, countryside melody is a rare treat for Surrey ears these days.

After a fairly quiet session in Furze Field I decided to head to Upper Bonhurst, and was rewarded with a patch tick, albeit a Category C one, in the shape of a Barnacle Goose. It was with 9 Canada Geese and a terrifying Canada X Greylag hybrid at Birtley House Pond, and is likely the same bird that was present intermittently between 7th March and 16th April of last year. Where it's come from, and where it goes, is a mystery. Beware - a Barnacle x Canada hybrid was present on occasion last year and the two can be confused from distance. On the way back a calling Little Owl, near the Res, was only my second of the year.
Sky-watching for raptors

Later in the morning I met up with Matt Phelps, and we visited a few sites in the county throughout the rest of the day. At our first destination we enjoyed the crisp, bright weather as we waited patiently for raptors, and we were rewarded in the shape of numerous Red Kites and Buzzards, as well as both Accipiter species, and a calling Little OwlLesser Redpolls and Siskins were vocal, the former a bird I have not seen many of this winter. 

After a few hours we were on the move again, this time to Witley Common. What a disappointment it proved to be. As a kid I have vivid memories of running around the heath, and traipsing around the visitor centre, but upon arrival today it became clear things had changed. The road to the centre had been removed, and the former heathland was alarmingly overgrown, predominantly with Birch, and some Willow. Dogs and their walkers outnumbered birds, of which we counted a measly 15 species, the best of which were Siskin. I find it hard to imagine Woodlark and Dartford Warbler residing here despite both species having been reported at Witley this year. It seems the National Trust run site is in some serious need of habitat management, and I will have to go elsewhere for my first Woodlark of 2016.

male Reeve's Pheasant, near Grayswood, 26/2/2016
To round off the day we decided to investigate a sighting I'd seen, online, of 2 Reeve's Pheasants in farmland near Grayswood. These Chinese endemics have a small, but apparently increasing population in the Brecks of East Anglia, with a tiny number in West Sussex. They are thought to outnumber Golden Pheasants in this country, which are on the British list, so it's perhaps not unreasonable to think Reeve's may one day make it on as a self-sustaining introduced bird. 

This extreme southerly part of the county is remote, and unknown to Matt and I, and having driven north past Prestwick Farm I spotted an outrageous looking male Reeve's Pheasant, in a field east of Leith Copse. Having got out and taken some photos the bird disappeared over the hill. An odd bird to see (a first time for me), and the farmers at Prestwick said that none of the land owners from the Grayswood to Chiddingfold road release game, so its origins are unknown.

Monday, 22 February 2016

22nd February

Thorncombe Street

An impromptu, post-work trip today turned out to be a fine flying visit, with an incredible hour long purple patch producing no less than 3 year ticks.

I'd pretty much given up hope of seeing a Little Egret this winter - I only had 4 records in 2015 (when I was visiting more often), and there seem to be fewer around the Wey and Tillingbourne valleys at the moment too. However, I always cast a glance to Eastwaters Pond, opposite Nurscombe Farm, on the drive through, as 2 of my previous sightings have come there. What a welcome surprise when, today, the snow white shape of a Little Egret caught my eye on the east side of the water. Having pulled over and got out, the bird seemed fairly content, and I enjoyed close-range views. Yes, they are now fairly regular in Surrey, but it's a fine bird for my bit!

A large flock of Common Gulls was situated opposite Thorncombe Park and, buoyed by my recent Iceland and Mediterranean yielding gull session with Dave Harris up at Walton Reservoirs last week, I decided to pull over again and have a scan. Nothing unusual - 2 Black-heads including a full summer plumage adult - though Red Kites, Buzzards and a Raven were all in the sky above.

A superb photo of a Buzzard over the Ridge taken on Friday (DC)
Still feeling pleased with the Egret, I was buoyed furthermore by the calls of a Little Owl as I climbed up to the Ridge. This species has eluded me so far in 2016 despite 1, potentially even 2, pairs breeding last year. I've known Rooks to mimic this species so I waited patiently for the bird to call again and again before I was sure. Sadly, despite a brief search, I couldn't locate the Owl.

Once on the Ridge it was clear the Finch/Bunting flock had swollen in size. At least 100 birds were present, predominately Reed Buntings and Chaffinches, but I managed to get in my highest count of the year for both Yellowhammer (11+) and Brambling (13+). Males of the latter species all had blueberry balaclavas adorning their plumage.

I soaked up the blue and grey checkered sky, very pleased with my haul. Things couldn't get better, surely, but much to my surprise the distinctive call of a Crossbill chipped above my head. I picked up the individual, flying fairly high E, and it disappeared over Furze Field. I'm not too sure where it could have been coming from, perhaps Winkworth (indeed Matt Phelps had a record of 9 in January), but this nomadic species is certainly hard to get here. Irregular in appearance, and almost always flying over, it was another fine addition to the day.

3 year ticks on a nondescript February afternoon is good going - I'll do well to get 3 more ticks in the next month!

Godalming area

Not too much elsewhere, since my last post, though Great Grey Shrikes were at Thursley Common and Blackdown on the 19th, the latter site enjoying a regular flock of Crossbills recently too. Little Egrets were present at Unstead Sewage Farm and Shalford water meadows on various days.

Other sightings from Thorncombe Street include a Peregrine on the 20th (seen by myself) and Red-legged Partridges, 1 Raven and a Yellowhammer on the 19th, reported by Dave Carlsson. Dave took the fantastic photo of the Buzzard, above.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

18th February

18th February

A later than normal start this morning, but it turned out to be the best patch outing of the year so far. Birds were everywhere, and the sheer quantities of the specialties, as well as the sunshine, made for a thoroughly enjoyable morning.

The first species noted once out the car was a Red Kite, and the spring-like conditions meant I had my highest tally of the year throughout the rest of the visit, with at least 5 birds around, including one that showed very well over the Ridge. Redwings were everywhere, their constant chatter serving as the background sound, and as I scanned the flock towards Slade's Farm I picked out a smaller bird perched on a fence surrounding a muddy field. It looked instantly like a Chat, and after watching it sally around (mobbed by a Pied Wagtail at one point) it became clear it was a female Stonechat. These birds are surprisingly scarce here - indeed, I only had 1 record in 2015. Perhaps I need to look harder. I soon found a second bird with it, and watched them for a few minutes before proceeding up the hill.
One of the Ravens over Winkworth today (M Phelps)

6 Red-legged Partridges were flushed, and before I had reached the Ridge I noted a female Brambling in the hedgerow. I later saw 2 more, with at least 50 Reed Buntings, 40 Chaffinches and 30 Goldfinches. Most notable in the flock, however, was the high number of Yellowhammers. Their calls were coming from everywhere, and there must have been at least 8, including some showy birds.

The weather meant raptors and corvids were in the sky in force. The Ravens were showing well, cronking and tumbling in the air, and I counted 10 Buzzards including 5 together over the Ridge. The former were touring the valley and Matt Phelps later got a picture of 1 of them over Winkworth. Later, 5 Greylags flew E and I could hear Teal from within Thorncombe Park as I headed back down the hill.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

11th February

Thorncombe Street

A hard frost came as something of a surprise when I set out at first light, and despite the sun shining brightly it was minus figures when I arrived at Rowe Barn Farm. The recently butchered trees opposite the lay-by looked glum, but the hedges behind them and up the footpath were teeming with Thrushes, Tits and Crests, the latter all Goldcrest. I checked for Firecrest but there was no sign - yet.

Common Gulls were absolutely everywhere. Practically every field from Thorncombe Park and Slade's Farm up to Wintershall harboured a flock, and there were plenty drifting overhead. Despite careful scrutiny the only other species were Black-headed, in much smaller numbers compared to the estimate 150+ Commons. The climb up the Ridge produced a few Red-legged Partridges, with more at the top, further signs this species has had a good winter.

Looking north from the Ridge this morning
It seems large numbers of Corvids have begun to roost in the crops on the Ridge and I, or a passing Red Fox, flushed them all up, along with a couple more Partridges and some Woodpigeons. Movement above was taking place mainly in the shape of the Common Gulls, though 4 Herring Gulls and a Cormorant flew south. I couldn't find any Bramblings among the 20+ Reed Buntings and Finches, just a sole Yellowhammer on the south side.

A scan north revealed that the Barrett's Rough heronry was occupied again - 8 Grey Herons perching prominently from the top of the trees, a good number. I later saw most of these birds in flight over Nurscombe Farm - a flock of Herons isn't a typical sight! All in all, however, there wasn't too much about. On the walk back however, the conspicuous call of a Firecrest fired out from the holly I'd seen the Crest flock in earlier. I obtained brief glimpses, before heading to Mill Pond.

Despite the frozen weather there was little here, either, just 20+ Teal and a handful of Tufted Ducks and Mandarins (still no Grey Wagtail!). Great Brook was also quiet, but it was here I decided that today was a day for appreciating first inklings of spring, as oppose to any unusual birds. As I looked over the bowl, with the sun shining down, numerous Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Tits and Woodpeckers were marking out their territory loudly, and I wondered how many weeks it'd be until that first Hirundine passed overhead.

Godalming area
The Great Grey Shrike this morning (M Elsoffer)

Having been seen yesterday the Great Grey Shrike was again reported today, this time by Mark Elsoffer, who saw it on Shrike Hill. It seems spring was creeping in there too - he also had at least 3 Woodlarks. Elsewhere today a male Blackcap visited a private Busbridge garden this afternoon, and a Brambling was at feeders in
Haslemere.

Yesterday the Goosander were still at Holdfast Lane in Haslemere, and 3 Little Egrets were on the Flooded Field at Unstead Sewage Farm.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

9th February

Thorncombe Street

Following Storm Imogen there was little peace on the patch this morning, as a notable amount of work was taking place across the site. Near the Rowe Barn Farm lay-by trees were receiving a trim, including a large holly, popular with Woodpigeons and Thrushes for roosting and feeding. Towards Combe Farm a hedgerow was being cleared near a new house - all quite noisy, and seemingly a shame, particularly for the birds. I imagine in 20 years time Thorncombe Street will look rather different.

The regulars were quickly noted on the climb up to the Ridge, including Red-legged PartridgesRavens and a Red Kite. The Common Gull flock was settled in Thorncombe Park, and 2 Grey Herons flew south. Upon reaching the top I was struck by the apparent lack of Bunting/Finch flock. Obvious and plentiful until today, numbers are clearly on the decline as breeding dispersal commences. Despite this, there was still roughly 15 Reed Buntings, and I was eventually able to pick out at least 2 Bramblings. A male of this species was nearing full summer plumage, further indication that spring is coming.

Little was moving in the sky, though a sole Lesser Black-backed Gull drifted south. Just before I left 4 small birds flew up from the north facing crop, and a couple of "zits" made them Yellowhammers. There have been plenty more of these wonderful Buntings this winter than in 2014/2015. A male and female perched on a hedge for a while as the other 2 headed south-east, possibly to Upper Bonhurst, where I had my other record this year, on 21st January.

Godalming area

In Halsemere, 5 Goosander were at Holdfast Lane, today part of a wintering flock there that's reached up to 8 birds (RF). At nearby Blackdown there was a remarkable record of 2 Jack Snipe, surprisingly the second this year (DB). 17 Crossbills flew over too.

There had been 3 Little Egrets at Unstead Sewage Farm the past 2 days, though none were present today

Saturday, 6 February 2016

6th February

Thorncombe Street

Things had quietened down on the patch since my last post on 23rd January, and 7 visits (albeit many brief) between then and today had yielded just 2 year ticks, both on the 28th in the shape of Lesser Black-backed Gull and Lesser Redpoll. By 6th February of 2015 I was on 73 species, including such patch gems as Brent Goose, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Great Crested Grebe, but by this year on the 6th I was on 67, and missing fairly regular birds like Grey Wagtail and Little Owl. How things would change today!

The forecast was set to be pretty miserable, with high winds, so I had a late start at Mill Pond. There were still decent numbers of Teal, though yet again no Shoveler - I have had none since the 23rd. The regular wildfowl were all present, and a Red Kite drifted overhead, mobbed by Jackdaws. Next stop was Rowe Barn Farm, where there was little other than Common Gulls overhead, and I wasn't particularly hopeful as I climbed up to the Ridge.

However, 2 Bramblings were quickly located on the north side, and there were good numbers of Reed Buntings. The wind was strong, but to my surprise a Peregrine drifted W at 11:07, my first of the year. Perhaps, like one did in 2015, this bird will spend the late winter here. Interestingly, Matt Phelps had a Peregrine over Winkworth later in the day, surely the same bird. Minutes later and I had another year tick - a Meadow Pipit - calling as it zipped over. Good fortune indeed, but the winds were making birding pretty uncomfortable, so I headed back down, before setting off to Scotsland Farm.

Siskins were the first bird noted, and as I walked the footpath towards the entrance to Great Brook I was alerted to a stocky bird with an notably heavy bill in the tops of the trees that join the bowl. I had an inkling, and once my bins were on my suspicions were confirmed - Hawfinch! I was over the moon, and amid the excitement I noted a second bird slightly lower down - I couldn't believe it! They seemed fairly settled and I enjoyed some pretty decent views while they simply sat in branches, but after 4 minutes, at 11:45, they both took off and flew E.

Very pleased, I continued into Great Brook to try and relocate them. Unsurprisingly I couldn't, though a Marsh Tit was heard. The amount of private land makes it likely these birds didn't go far. I had 1 Hawfinch last year, a much more fleeting sighting in Furze Field on 21st November. Perhaps there is a tiny wintering population here?

Godalming area

Plenty of stuff locally since my last post, all summed up briefly below:

24th - Great Grey Shrikes at both Thursley and Witley Commons.
25th - Great Grey Shrike again at Thursley, but no sign of the Witley bird. 11 Goosander at Cutt Mill.
26th - Great Grey Shrike at Thursley.
28th - A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and a Firecrest were at Witley Common, and the Great Grey Shrike was again at Thursley.
30th - A Great Grey Shrike was at Frensham Common, on Vampire Flats, but not reported at Thursley. A Firecrest was at the latter site, and 1 was in a Witley garden. Little Egrets were at the Lammas Lands (2) and Unstead Sewage Farm (3).
31st - Great Grey Shrike at Thursley.
1st February - Great Grey Shrike at Thursley again.
2nd  - Firecrest in a Witley garden again.
3rd - A Short-eared Owl, a very rare local bird, was seen hunting north of Dunsfold aerodrome at 13:15, in fields either side of Dunsfold Road.
4th - 2 Great Grey Shrikes at Thursley Common.
5th - again 2 Great Grey Shrikes at Thursley, and a Little Egret flew S over Shalford Water Meadows.