Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 24 October 2016

24th October

Again, there has been a fair gap between this and my last post. I haven't managed to get out on the patch quite as much as I'd hoped this autumn, particularly compared to last year. In 2015, September and October yielded 8 year ticks - so far I am on just 3 for those months. Tree Pipit (a patch first record) and Osprey (a patch tick for me, only the second known record) both came on the same day in early September, so I guess I feel a little underwhelmed having only added Wigeon (an eclipse drake at Rowe's Flashe on 1st October) since.

I managed no Whinchats, Redstarts or, as of yet, Ring Ouzels, the latter one I really expected to see by now. I spent most of my time on the patch today hopefully listening for a Yellow-browed Warbler, after a flurry of Surrey records in recent weeks. Alas, I didn't chance upon one, these birds becoming mere footnotes in Shetland earlier this month (that trip will merit a report of its own at one point) such was the frequency of finding them. It seems I have missed a mega this autumn - I write this on the one-year anniversary of Matt Phelps' and my Little Bunting over the Ridge!

Having parked up by the gate at the start of the New Barn path after work, it became immediately apparent that a number of birds were present in the trees that flank the east side of the track. Beech seeds, horse chestnuts and holly berries littered the floor, and the calls of various Thrushes, finches and Tits whispered, buzzed and chattered, largely out of view. A few Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests suddenly appeared, but my call-playing and ear-straining could't pick out a Yellow-browed with them. The number of finches dropping down from the Beech tree had caught my eye, seemingly all Chaffinches, and I was surprised not to note at least one Brambling, having had a few back on the patch in recent days.

One large finch flashed between the leaves high up and, moments later, a heavy 'tick' gave up the presence of a Hawfinch, typically elusive and hard to see. I managed 2 more glimpses but nothing elongated (there could have been more than one), and the birds eventually flushed when I headed south down the path about 10 minutes later. A nice record, and pretty much over the road from Great Brook, where I had 2 birds on February 6th. I have no idea if these birds have come from far (Scandinavia) or close (Chiddingfold woods), but there was a bird at Blackdown, near Haslemere, yesterday, so perhaps there has been some recent movement. I picked up a calling Marsh Tit here too, but couldn't relocate the Hawfinch on the way back.

Happier times - the Mill Pond Mutes during the summer of 2014
Despite this pleasing record, today confirmed some very sad patch news. Since the 1950's, Mute Swans have resided on Mill Pond. In recent years they have always nested successfully, but last year the nest was predated twice by Foxes. For some reasons the Swans had nested close to land, and they did again this year. Unsurprisingly, they failed, and I last saw them both on the water on August 11th. From here, the situation seems odd. On the 13th, the male was on the road, being shepherded off by two gardeners. I was in a moving car, and never learnt the outcome. From then, only the female remained on the water, with no sign of her mate. On the 18th she was present, but then vanished, Mill Pond empty of its white residents for the first time in my memory.

Oddly, I had 2 over the Ridge on 8th September, but these were almost certainly not the local pair. I assumed they had simply relocated until, on October 6th, the female was back on Mill Pond. There was no sign of the male during the following weeks, and she was last seen there by my girlfriend (who took great interest in this story!) on Wednesday 12th, when I was in Shetland. Since I got back, I have not seen her, but on Friday, tragically, I noticed what was almost certainly a floating body of a Swan on the far south side. The body was still there today, and it truly seems like it's the end of the Mill Pond Mutes. What actually happened, particularly with the male, I will never know, and Mute Swan will no doubt become an extremely hard bird to get on the patch.

Anyway, I may still manage Ring Ouzel (I had a November 5th bird last year), and Woodcock is still to be seen, as 2016 winds to an end. What's certain is another chance to add to my Western Palearctic list, with a Low Countries November trip and an Arctic Circle adventure in December offering potential for snow specialists and Category C wonders!