Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

29th November

I awoke to a sharp frost this morning. Temperatures had hit minus 5 overnight but, like yesterday, the sky was blue and the wind calm. It felt like proper, midwinter, and the first stop was the patch, which was due a thorough check. Inspired by recent, local wildfowl records, I stopped to scan Mill Pond first. The northern end was frozen, but the rest of the water was rammed with Ducks and Geese, notably Canada Geese, of which 23 was the second highest count of the year. This species is infrequent on Mill Pond, and they were joined by 4 Greylags.

The female Red-crested Pochard on Mill Pond this morning
The number of Teal has been rising steadily these past few weeks, and today's count of (at least) 41 was the highest of this winter so far. A few drakes were displaying, and beyond them were several Shoveler, a largely sleeping flock of 15+ Tufted Ducks and probably over 60 Mallards. The number of ducks lead me to retrieve my telescope from the boot, and give the water a quick scan. As I did so, a pair of Gadwall revealed themselves before, much to my surprise, as did a female Red-crested Pochard. They are exceptionally rare here (my November 13th blog post goes into much more detail) and this bird was surely the same one that I found on Bramley Park Lake on the aforementioned date a couple of weeks ago. Presumably she has stayed local since the 13th, and her typically shy behaviour this morning demonstrated perhaps why I haven't noted her in my intervening visits.

The new path leading to the Ridge
She seemed to prefer the vegetated sides of the lake, and her journey from one to another across the open water was quick, before she was easily lost in the trees and roots. The habitat on Mill Pond actually looks decent for Red-crested Pochard, so perhaps she will stick. There are a handful of off-limits, private ponds between here and Bramley Park Lake, and I wouldn't be surprised if she's spent much of her time there. Continuing to Winkworth, in search of another rare duck, was fruitless - it was dead there, and so I decided to climb up the Ridge. A new footpath has been constructed along the Slade's/Rowe Barn Farm boundary, offering slightly obscured views of the former. It's somewhat of a shame, but I have to say the viewing isn't anywhere as limited as I was worried it was going to become. 

The light on the Ridge was brilliant, and a large party of Linnets chattered and wheezed on the southern facing crop. A few Reed Buntings and a single Brambling where also of note here, and 3 Common Gulls flew south. Numbers of these will rise as winter goes on. I still await a Woodcock on the patch this year - now is optimum time, and a search solely for this species in Leg-of-Mutton Copse on the 25th didn't produce the goods (a couple of Crossbill was a nice record though, only the 3rd of the year). As I headed back down, about 10 rather unseasonal Meadow Pipits dropped in, but in general it was rather quiet, so it was onto Frensham Great Pond where I had a target bird to try and locate.

The Frensham Long-tailed Duck
On Sunday remarkable news of an immature Long-tailed Duck, found by Frensham stalwart patch-watcher Shaun Peters, had emerged, and the bird proved popular that day. I had work preventing me from going, as well as a distinct lack of enthusiasm for county listing these days However, given the scarcity of this bird in Surrey, the closeness of it to home and the fact it's a duck, lead me to ambitiously try a pre-dawn trip before work on Monday. A dead Guillemot, even more of a surprise than the duck, had been seen by David Campbell the day before, but before the sun came up I had to settle for poor views of the Long-tailed from the hotel, as well as a drake Goosander, before heading off to work. It was there that I learnt about a redhead Smew at the same site - I was gutted I'd missed it, but with today off I was up for trying to relocate it, a decision not too tough to make given the species position as my favourite bird.
Wisely remaining hidden

Alas, I couldn't find the Smew today, nor the Goosander, but the Long-tailed Duck performed very well indeed, my girlfriend and I enjoying fairly close views and an opportunity to photograph the bird from the east shore. An Aythya hybrid, presumably a Pochard x Tufted, had me pondering for a while, and a Water Rail could be heard squealing from the reeds. It would be rude to not end the day without a final duck species (10 in total today) so we visited the lonely gentleman in the last photo before heading home! A dusk check on Mill Pond confirmed the Red-crested Pochard was still present.