Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Thursday, 22 June 2017

14th-22nd June

I've had less time on patch recently, often either a pretty brief early morning or late evening session. The general trend is one of quiet summer, and the heatwave this week has meant most of the hay fields in the south have been cut early, ending the optimistic Quail dream of recent weeks. With a very warm (31 celsius) Summer Solstice yesterday, my mind has tentatively begun to think towards return migration, and the last few July's here have produced some very good stuff.
Spotted Flycatcher, Selhurst Common, 14/6/2017

As mentioned, it's been quiet, and perhaps the best bird of the last 9 days was a Common Tern over Bramley Park Lake on the 15th, the 5th record this year. Given the Tuesley Farm birds spend their days fishing at Enton or Marsh Farm, the nest site of my birds is completely unknown.

Another notable record recently is the appearance of 1 (at least) female Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid, present on Bramley Park Lake on a couple of dates, including today. Presumably, Florence has hooked up with a Mallard, not totally surprising given her fondness for hanging around with this species. The hybrid is told by its more rusty plumage, and a stripe in the crown. Florence is still about, and was seen with a drake Mallard on Mill Pond on the 20th.

Sticking with ducks, a staggering roost count of 96 Mandarins was made at Mill Pond on the 18th, unsurprisingly a site record. Females seem to be using the safe and predator-proof pond as a post-breeding creche for their young, and many eclipse males have also pitched up, explaining the high count. 76 were present on the 19th, and the number has slowly dropped down since.

Gadwall, Mill Pond, 14/6/2017
Another extremely out of season Shoveler was present on the 20th, Gadwalls have been about on and off, and the first Tufted Duck young of the year were seen on the 19th, a pair looking after 9 ducklings. Today 4 Little Grebes, including 1 chick, were on the water.

A late night listen for Tawny Owls on the 16th produced 6 birds. A rare sight on the 21st was one seen in the day, flushed from its roost in Ridings Brook. The Wintershall gamekeeper has, somewhat remarkably, reported a pair of Barn Owls at Combe Farm. I'll investigate in the coming days, and it would represent a fine record if proven.

With things quiet on patch, I've taken the opportunity, on a couple of dates, to check out the state of the farmland birds around the Hambledon area. This completely un-watched neck of the woods has great potential, but I have (so far) failed in my attempts to locate any Quails, Lesser Whitethroats or Turtle Doves, despite perfect looking habitat. I was confident of finding the latter species when I stumbled across a feeding flock of about 400 Woodpigeons at Burgate Farm, but I failed to make out even a Stock Dove among the frenzy.
Little Owl, Thorncombe Park, 21/6/2017

Despite not finding any Lessers, plenty of Common Whitethroats seem to be kicking about here, along with Skylarks, Red-legged Partridges and, in the wooded areas, Spotted Flycatchers. Most pleasing, however, is the number of Yellowhammers. On Tuesday I had at least 3 singing males, including 2 at Burgate.

A few years ago, I chose to patch Thorncombe Street over this area. I wonder what I would have found if I had spent the same amount of time scouring the seemingly endless fields? There's so much land in Surrey that gets no attention from birders - I'm sure thing like Turtle Doves, Quails and Corn Buntings are out there, somewhere...

Thursday, 15 June 2017

2016 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report

The 2016 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report is now available.

Please visit this link for details.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

13th June

There were several notable sightings today, over the course of 2 sessions on patch. Again, ducks took centre stage, with 2 female Red-crested Pochards on Bramley Park Lake in the afternoon. The relative cover of the north shore allowed for some fairly close views, as well as this footage, as the birds fed quietly in the vegetated fringes, before flying to the south side of the lake. Their origin remains a mystery, but as time goes on I'm beginning to wonder if there was/is an ornamental pair on a private pond somewhere around here, and these perhaps are free winged young. On Mill Pond, a very high count of 32 Mandarins was made, mostly drakes either in eclipse plumage or moulting.

Spotted Flycatcher being pretty unspotted but catching flies
at Selhurst Common today
Bramley Park Lake was the more exciting water body today, with a Kingfisher also present this afternoon. Surprisingly, this is only the 4th record this year. A Cormorant was fishing, and there was one at Winkworth too, where a Marsh Tit was also knocking about. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came at Bonhurst Farm, in the shape (or sound) of a singing Reed Bunting. Remarkable not primarily for being out of season, but because this species has never been recorded here anywhere but the Ridge (wintering flock) or Winkworth (occasional outside the summer).

It seems there are in fact 2 pairs of Spotted Flycatchers nesting in ivy-clad walls at Selhurst Common. The site occupied last year was seeing a lot of action today, with food constantly being taken in, all whilst another pair were busy over the road. As things stand, there are at least 4 pairs across the site, but likely more.

Monday, 12 June 2017

9th-12th June

Since Bulgaria, I’ve managed just a handful of brief visits to the patch. Despite being June, ducks have taken much of the limelight, with Florence the Red-crested Pochard present again on Mill Pond on Friday, along with the eclipse drake Gadwall. A bigger surprise today came via a male Shoveler at the same site - a very out of season record, with no previous sightings of this species in the period from March until late August! Presumably, this bird was a failed breeder, and likely a second-year individual.
Florence at Mill Pond, 9/6/2017.

The highlight of the past few days, however, was the finding of a family party of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, which included 2 seemingly very recently fledged birds. The group was feeding silently, high up in the canopy, and only a vocal Great Spotted Woodpecker nearby brought them to my attention. It’s pretty certain this was the pair noted from February to April, and I’m delighted they were successful, particularly given how ridiculously elusive they became during the last couple of months. Unfortunately, despite extensive efforts by both myself and Gerry H, the actual nest was never found, and at one stage it was feared the birds had abandoned. Coupled with the steep decline of this bird nationally, it comes as a very pleasing record, and I can only hope the success is repeated in 2018.

Spotted Flycatchers have been somewhat slow coming in this year, but most pairs are now back on territory. The Selhurst Common birds have moved from the ivy-clad wall of one house to another, (showing well today), and the Phillimore site is occupied again. Elsewhere, it was very quiet, with the feeling of a sleepy summer day. Indeed, if anything, the Shoveler record points towards the arrival of autumn, and in a few weeks certain species will begin to move south. July has seen a few good bits before, including a Marsh Harrier and a flock of Whimbrel in 2015.

On Saturday, Matt P and I indulged in a thoroughly enjoyable twitch of the Elegant Tern at Pagham Harbour. Positioned on Hayling Island in the morning, we were quick to act when news broke of the birds reappearance at Church Norton, and we ended up enjoying pretty good views of the individual previously ringed at Banc d’Arguin, France (a site I visited last summer).

Red-footed Falcon, Frensham Common, 10/6/2017
Before we set off for the south coast we’d managed to squeeze in a look at the mighty-fine 1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon at Frensham Common, which somewhat surprisingly represented the first twitchable Surrey record of this species, after brief birds at Ranmore Common, Unstead Sewage Farm and Winterfold in the past 25 or so years. The individual was the latest off the Shaun P conveyer belt of excellent finds, with the long-staying Long-tailed Duck causing Surrey listers to twitch this far south-western part of the county only a few months back. The bird was his 203rd at Frensham, out of a historical total of around 230 (I can’t remember the exact figure he told me!).

The bird drew a big crowd, and continues to do so up until today at least, when it was present for its 3rd day. No doubt my Rosefinch at the start of the month would have brought people to Thorncombe Street – the all too fleeting nature of that bird still grates, and probably will do so for some time, or until I can avenge it with a find that sticks.

Friday, 9 June 2017

5th-9th June

Whilst not a Western Palearctic list-building trip, a few days spent in central Bulgaria proved fairly productive and certainly very enjoyable from a birding perspective. I was pleased to get two lifers, in the shape of Syrian Woodpecker and Sombre Tit, and there was a supporting cast of decent eastern bits, such as Black-headed Buntings, Barred Warblers, Isabelline Wheatears and Lesser Grey Shrikes. Throw in plentiful numbers of farmland species seemingly in rapid decline in the west, and a very respectable list of 81 birds was attained.
Lesser Grey Shrike, Sokolitsa, 7/6/2017

We stayed in the proud town of Kalofer, at the foot of Mount Botev, and birds around the town and hotel included Golden Orioles, Nightingales and, best of all, a couple of Syrian Woodpeckers. The focal point of the trip was to climb Botev, 2,476 metres tall and the highest mountain in the Central Balkan range. This was achieved (extremely tough!), and birds in the treeline and adjacent scrubby plateaus included Sombre Tits and Barred Warblers, as well as large numbers of Red-backed Shrikes, Wood Warblers, Hawfinches, Woodlarks and Rock Buntings.
 
There was only a small amount of time for birding, but a couple of hours in the scrubland and farms surrounding the village of Sokolitsa was excellent, not just for the quality of the species but also the densities. Tree Sparrows, Corn Buntings, feldegg Yellow Wagtails, Red-backed Shrikes, Hoopoes and both Calandra and Crested Larks were numerous, with Quails audible and a couple of Black Storks overhead. The grassy plains to the west of the village held a large number of Isabelline Wheatears, including recently fledged young, as well as European Ground Squirrels. A pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes showed well in the hedgerow at the south of the village, and a couple of Black-headed Buntings were surprisingly elusive in the crop fields to the east. Presumably, singing had largely ceased for this species by now.

Black-headed Bunting, Sokolitsa, 7/6/2017
With the great help of Dimiter from Neophron Tours, we were given gen for an Eastern Imperial Eagle site. Unfortunately, limited time and a lack of ‘scope put pay to the chances of finding this would-be lifer, but a sub-adult Golden Eagle here was some compensation. During the course of the other days, a few farmland areas were checked out, most of them bursting with the commoner of the aforementioned species as well as Turtles Doves and Grey Partridges.

This part of the world is obviously one of the economically less-off in Europe, but the people were very friendly, and tolerant of our limited/largely non-existent Bulgarian. As for the prices, a pint cost around 70p, a coffee 65p and most meals (2 courses) were around £5. The hotel cost £11 a night, each. With the quality of the birding inland this good, I’m sure the Black Sea is as good as its reputation suggests, and I’ll definitely be back to check it out one day.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

4th June

Pallas's Sandgrouse, Alpine Accentor, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Rose-coloured Starling, Great Reed Warbler, Green-winged Teal, 19 raptors (including 3 Eagle species), 4 Auks and all 5 European Rails/Crakes...
Spotted Crake, Unstead, September 2010 (KG)

No, not a productive sky-watch from the Ridge, but a selection of some of the more mouth-watering of the 255 species that have been recorded in the Godalming area. Area definition? A 3.5 kilometre radius of the town centre, which incorporates a surprising mosaic of different habitats and well-watched patches. Assembled largely for fun, I was thinking the list would hit 200, but never expected the figure to be quite so high. I reckon there are 3 main factors behind the big tally, which are explained below.

1. There's a big variety of habitats in the 3.5 km circle. You have heathland, woods and copses at different elevations, big lakes, a river and adjacent meadows, marshland and pools, farmland etc. None of the sites are particularly premier, but the area does seem to be a microcosm of the wider county. Think Witley Common as a poor mans Thursley, Enton Lakes the little brother of Frensham, and Unstead a tiny slither of Beddington, for example.

2. The coverage during the last few decades (arguably the last half-century) has been very high. Chiefly, this is down to two stalwarts, Brian Milton at Unstead and Eric Soden in the Milford/Enton/Tuesley area. These two sites have turned up pretty much all the modern-day rares, and a lot of them have been found by the two aforementioned gentlemen. 

3. A lot of people shot/killed stuff in the Godalming area pre-1900. This accounts for a fair few of the more exotic records (such as the Sandgrouse, Accentor and two of the Eagles), and it certainly seems birds 'collected' in the Godalming area back in the day is much better documented than other parts of the county.

The famous Hydestile Red-footed Falcon (& friend), seen
twice at Unstead after its release at Thursley in 1998 (DMH)
Unfortunately, there's a bit of an elephant in the room in regard to the list, and that's Unstead and the Surrey Bird Club rarity committee's non-existent relationship. It's a long story (that began with a Sabine's Gull in July 2000) but, in short, for the last 17 years Unstead records simply never got submitted. This means a number of birds that only feature on the Godalming list because of one-time records from Unstead have a certain awkward feel about them - Long-tailed Skua, Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite and Icterine Warbler are some examples.

Anyway, back to the patch and today, when a brief visit yielded no additions the Godalming area list. Indeed it was quiet - a 'sweeo-ing' Chiffchaff was taking food to a nest at Junction Field, the drake (though currently looking like a female) Gadwall at Mill Pond was present and a Garden Warbler was heard. Highlights as follows:

08:10-10:00

Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 3 Mandarins (♂♀♀ + 3 ducklings), 1 Grey Heron, 5 Tufted Ducks (♂♂♂♀♀), 2 Mute Swans and 1 Blackcap.

Thorncombe Street: 2 Red-legged Partridges, 3 Swallows, 1 Buzzard and 1 Blackcap.

Junction Field: 1 Garden Warbler, 7 Swifts, 6 House Martins, 2 Buzzards, 5 Chiffchaffs and 4 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 15+ House Martins, 2 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

3rd

A pretty diverse and surprising cast of birds in a split day today. The notable westerly, certainly at elevation, was mixing things up a bit and loads of House Martins and Swifts looked to be moving through, pretty late in the season. I'm not sure which was more surprising out of the reappearance of the extremely elusive (and now seemingly resident) female Red-crested Pochard on Mill Pond this morning, or the 3rd-summer Lesser Black-backed Gull that became the first June record when it flew west over Junction Field. Highlights as follows:

07:45-08:30; 14:30-16:20

Mill Pond: Red-crested Pochard (♀, E side c.07:50), 1 Gadwall ♂, 3 Tufted Ducks (♂♂♀), 11 Mandarins (9 ♂), 1 Grey Heron and 2 Mute Swans.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 1 Grey Wagtail, 7 Swallows and 2 Red-legged Partridges

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Whitethroat, 20+ House Martins, 4 Linnets, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Junction Field (15:05-15:50): 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd-summer W c.15:15), 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 40+ Swifts, 20+ House Martins, 10+ Swallows, 7 Linnets, 10+ Buzzards, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Friday, 2 June 2017

2nd June

Just the morning on patch, mainly an unsuccessful second search for the Rosefinch. In the process 3 Little Owls were noted, suggesting both pairs are now feeding young, 2 Egyptian Geese were at Wintershall, the Gadwall pair remained on Mill Pond and the first Pied Wagtail young of the year were at Bonhurst Farm. Highlights as follows:

07:35-08:40; 09:45-11:00

Mill Pond: 2 Gadwall (♂♀), 2 Mute Swans, 4 Mandarins (♂♀♀♀ + 7 ducklings) and 1 Grey Heron.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 4 Mandarins (♂♀♀♀ + 5 ducklings), 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Thorncombe Street-Lea Farm: 2 Egyptian Geese, 2 Little Owls (Thorncombe Park and Gatestreet Farm), 7 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Swallows, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Little Owl, 2 Red-legged Partridges,  4 Linnets, 15+ House Martins, 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

1st June

A day I certainly wouldn't have predicted when I woke up this morning. Having done the usual rounds at Mill Pond and Winkworth, and parked near Lea Farm ahead of a planned Junction Field sky-watch, my attention was drawn to an odd mixture of calls coming from the field to the east, and it seemed a flock of 5 birds had recently alighted on the wires. A quick scan revealed 4 Linnets, and a pallid and larger bird that seemed almost Corn Bunting-like, with its back to me.
Common Rosefinch at Lea Farm

I got the scope on it, but with the light poor I headed down the track to another gate further along the field. Here, from a better angle, the possibility of a female/1st-summer male Common Rosefinch entered my mind. The initial and obvious features that stood out against the Linnets were the chunkiness of the birds neck and bill (recalling Trumpeter Finch), the very pallid and cold tones to the plumage, and a long tail. Thankfully the birds were staying still, and I scanned along the Linnets to see if my mind was playing tricks with me - it wasn't, and this bird was standing out.

Thankfully I had a few field guides in the car, and after manically thumbing through a couple the reality began to increase. Making mental notes, I got back on the bird and observed two pretty distinct pale wing-bars, at which point things got a bit frantic. My girlfriend was on the bird with the camera, and taking some shots, sadly none of which came out too well. The light didn't help, and the photo here doesn't tell much, bar the thick neck and bill, and pale plumage (obviously super-enhanced by the light!). Subtle streaks on the underparts were noted, mainly concentrated around the breast, and the heaviness was reiterated (I even re-scanned all birds to see if it was an adult Linnet among recently fledged young!).

A tractor then spooked the birds, and they all took off to the west. At this point I was able to pick out the almost Brambling-esque buzz twice, among the Linnet chatter, and became almost certain that I heard that same call as the group came in earlier. My experience with this species is fairly limited, having seen them in Estonia in 2007 and Poland earlier this year, but the guide-to-bird usage and hearing that call are what nailed it for me - I couldn't have been certain without them.

Egyptian Goose at Gatestreet Farm
I quickly phoned a couple of birding mates, and given the flock hadn't looked to have moved far, set off on a mission to re-find it. Sadly, 6 hours exhausting hours later, and having covered some serious ground, I didn't even have a sniff of the flock. The search really was akin to a needle in a haystack job - Linnets move about seemingly endlessly, and as I post this I am heading back out to visit the field again. It's a shame to say the madness of such a bird has been tempered a bit by not re-finding it, for others to enjoy, but you can't have it all!

Elsewhere today, a roosting Barn Owl at Bonhurst (the place I scoured most for the Rosefinch), was a very pleasant surprise, and my first of the year. Also, a Herring Gull flew NW, 2 Gadwall on Mill Pond became the first June record, and 2 Egyptian Geese were at Gatestreet Farm. Full highlights as follows:

07:40-08:30; 09:25-16:05

Mill Pond: 2 Gadwalls (♂♀), 2 Mute Swans, 3 Tufted Ducks (♂♂♀) and 1 Blackcap.

Winkworth Arboretum: 2 Little Grebes, 2 Mandarin Ducks (♀♀ + 7 ducklings), 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Gatestreet Farm: 2 Egyptian Geese, 1 Little Owl, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Linnets, 7 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Lea Farm: 1 COMMON ROSEFINCH (♀/ 1st-summer ♂ on wires, 09:43-09:52), 4 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Barn Owl (roosting in Oak by stables), 1 Little Owl, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 1 Kestrel (♀), 5 Linnets, 2 Buzzards, 15+ House Martins, 6 Swallows, 1 Chiffchaff and 3 Blackcaps.

Junction Field: 1 Herring Gull (NE at 11:55), 1 Whitethroat, 4 Buzzards, 4 Swallows, 3 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaff.

The Ridge: 2 Red-legged Partridges, 5 Buzzards, 2 Blackcaps and 3 Swallows.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

28th-31st May

Another muggy day, with few periods of sunshine. Pretty quiet, lots of warbler song and more young birds appearing being the main source of interest, with spring migration very much reaching its end. May has been decent, with a 82 species recorded in total, not including a very interesting sighting today.
Little Owl this morning

In a lengthy vigil from Junction Field, the lack of movement was clear, but at 13:12 my attention was drawn to a chirpy trill to the south. The call didn't click straight away, and was reminiscent of Redpoll, but after several seconds I was strongly reminded of Tree Sparrow. There was a total of 3 small, finch/sparrow/bunting shaped birds, and I noted only brown upperparts before losing them in the distance towards Blackheath.

Such a record could, at best, be considered extremely unlikely, but I have really struggled to make the call anything other than Tree Sparrow. I would have picked out Redpoll - a moderately numerous winter visitor - and it would be a lot more feasible to have this species passing over at the end of May than Tree Sparrow. For what it's worth, the birds sounded just like this and this. As far as I know there are no healthy populations in Surrey, Sussex or Hampshire, with the Dungeness birds the closest (may be wrong).

The likeliness would be higher if it was the height of migration, but even so this species doesn't move too much, even though (historically) Surrey-ringed birds have been found over 100km away. I will tussle with it more, but realistically I can't be sure they were Tree Sparrows. If I was at Beddington a couple of years ago, or in Poland a few weeks back I'd have no doubt. If anyone reading this has any suggestions, please let me know!

Elsewhere, as mentioned, there was little of note. Mandarin breeding has been very successful this year, and today there were 17 ducklings from 5 broods across the site. The Little Owl pair are very prominent at present, seemingly with hungry young to feed, and there were good numbers of both Whitethroats and Garden Warblers. Highlights as follows, and below that a quick summary of the 28th-30th:

07:40-09:10; 10:20-14:00

Mill Pond: 3 Mandarins (♂♀♀ + 10 ducklings), 2 Grey Herons and 2 Mute Swans.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 1 Grey Wagtail, 4 Red-legged Partridges, 12 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Greylag Goose, 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 4 Mandarins (♂♀♀♀ + 7 ducklings), 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Grebe (+ 1 chick), 1 Grey Wagtail, 2 Chiffchaffs and 5 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 12 House Martins, 2 Linnets, 8 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Great Brook to New Barn loop: 3 Garden Warblers, 4 Whitethroats, 1 Skylark, 1 Marsh Tit, 1 Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 1 Linnet, 2 Chiffchaffs and 6 Blackcaps.

Junction Field (10:55-13:50): 1 Herring Gull (NE at 12:14), 1 Whitethroat, 1 Red-legged Partridge, 2 Linnets, 14 Buzzards, 1 Kestrel (♂), 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff. 

30th: a Common Tern was again over Bramley Park Lake, with local breeding now suspected. A Spotted Flycatcher was at Selhurst Common, and a Marsh Tit was at Winkworth, along with a family party of 4 Ravens.

29th: 3 Gadwall (2 drakes) were on Mill Pond.

28th: a Common Tern was at Bramley Park Lake, and a pair of Gadwall were on Mill Pond.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

27th May

A wayward forecast today, with cloud and a fair south-west wind instead of morning showers and afternoon sunshine. Most of the time on patch was a sky-watch from Junction Field with Matt. Late Swifts and House Martins were coming through on the breeze, and presumably the same Cormorant was noted circling before heading east, twice. Probably only a few days for any late spring migrants to come in, but you never know. Highlights as follows:

09:15-09:45; 10:40-13:15

Mill Pond: 2 Mute Swans and 1 Tufted Duck (♂).

Gatestreet Farm: 21 Greylag Geese, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 1 Blackcap and 1 Chiffchaff.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Kestrel (♀) and 12+ House Martins.

Junction Field (10:50-12:30): 1 Whitethroat, 1 Cormorant (E 11:53 & E 12:11), 7 Swifts N/E, 10 Swallows, 11 House Martins, 9 Buzzards, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Allden's Hill: 2 Swifts NE, 1 Kestrel (♂), 3 Greylag Geese, 7 House Martins and 3 Swallows.

Friday, 26 May 2017

26th May

Very warm and a virtually cloudless sky, with temperatures reaching 25 celsius. There was however a pleasant south-east wind, which made for a comfortable sky-watch, the highlights from which included the latest Black-headed Gulls ever recorded on patch. This species is very rare between April and September, and the latest previous record (also the only beyond April) was on 1st May 2016. The journey of the 3 adults drifting very high south at 11:42 intrigues. There was also a flock of 7 Herring Gulls west, a couple of flyover Cormorants and good numbers of raptors.

Elsewhere, the Gadwall pair were on Mill Pond, and, in London bus style, the second confirmed Egyptian Goose breeding success occurred one day after the first. Highlights as follows:

07:30-08:30; 09:45-14:45

Mill Pond: 2 Gadwall (♂♀), 1 Mandarin (♂), 2 Mute Swans and 1 Blackcap.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 2 Grey Herons, 4 Red-legged Partridges, 10 Swallows, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Mandarin (♀ with 3 ducklings), 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 1 Little Grebe, 4 Blackcaps and 3 Chiffchaffs.

Tilsey Farm: 1 Buzzard, 10+ Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Gatestreet Farm: 10+ Greylag Geese and 2 Red-legged Partridges.

Bonhurst Farm: 2 Linnets, 12+ House Martins, 1 Buzzard, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Wintershall: 2 Egyptian Geese (+ 6 goslings) and 1 Blackcap.

Junction Field (10:00-14:35): 3 Black-headed Gulls (S 11:42), 7 Herring Gulls (W 12:26), 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 2 Cormorants (1 SE 10:20, 1 E 12:55), 4 Swifts, 2 Linnets, 2 Kestrels (♂♀), 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 17 Buzzards, 8 House Martins, 15+ Swallows, 2 Grey Herons, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

25th May

Very hot, with a pleasant south-easterly, and little cloud cover. Good for raptors, but I seemed to miss any of the apparent Red Kite movement that's been happening on the south coast (33 over Seaton, Devon today, and 30 over Sandwich Bay yesterday). A long-anticipated breeding first was proven, in the shape of 4 Egyptian Geese goslings, at Scrubbin's Pond. This species has tried and failed before, and I imagine there are a couple more pairs lurking in the estates. It also means 3 Goose species have bred at Scrubbin's this year. Elsewhere, not loads, though a couple of Spotted Flycatchers at Goose Green were good to see. Highlights as follows:

07:30-08:50; 12:00-14:45

Mill Pond: 2 Egyptian Geese, 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 2 Mute Swans and 2 Little Grebes.

Winkworth Arboretum: 2 Mandarins (♀♀, both with 3 ducklings), 1 Little Grebe, 1 Buzzard, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Goose Green: 2 Egyptian Geese (+ 4 goslings), 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 1 Skylark, 1 Grey Heron, 11 Greylag Geese (+ 5 goslings) and 2 Blackcaps.

Gatestreet Farm: 17 Greylag Geese, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 4 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Bonhurst Farm: 2 Whitethroats, 3 Linnets, 10+ House Martins, 3 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Junction Field (12:25-14:25): 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Raven, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 1 Kestrel (♂), 12 Buzzards, 7 Swallows, 2 House Martins, 2 Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

24th May

Much quieter today, which was very warm, with the pretty much non-existent northerly doing nothing to cool things down. Two Common Terns were present at Bramley Park Lake in the morning, just the second record this year. It's likely they were the same pair as earlier this month, and courtship behaviour was witnessed. I still can't work out where they're based, and they soon departed west. Elsewhere, as mentioned, there wasn't much, though I managed to catch up with Steve C for a couple of hours. The winds look slightly more favourable in the coming days, and I'm tempted to head out tonight for some nocturnal migration listening (or lack of). Highlights as follows:

07:00-12:20

Bramley Park Lake: 2 Common Terns (07:05-07:10, flew W), 1 Grey Heron and 1 Chiffchaff.

Mill Pond: 3 Mandarins (♂♂♂), 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀), 1 Blackcap and 1 Chiffchaff.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 4 Swallows and 2 Red-legged Partridges.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Mandarin (♀, with 3 ducklings), 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀), 1 Little Grebe, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Scotsland Farm to Juniper Hill to Nore Hanger: 1 Garden Warbler, 5 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

New Barn: 1 Garden Warbler, 3 Whitethroats, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 3 Buzzards, 3 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Hive Field (09:55-12:00): 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Skylark, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 10+ Buzzards, 3 House Martins, 10 Swallows, 3 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

23rd May

Despite June not being very far away, spring migration is seemingly still in full swing, and I reaped the benefits of this this morning by unblocking a true patch mega. It certainly wasn't what I expected when I made a first visit to Winkworth for a while, but a sub-singing Reed Warbler in bamboo in the southern end of Phillimore represented only the second ever record of this species in the recording area!
Common Blue in Hive Field

I managed some video, but the bird was rather quiet and very hard to see, and is only just audible in the clip that's linked. Despite this, I was pretty delighted to add another patch lifer this spring, bringing my personal total to 132. It's also a mighty fine bird for the year list, and continues a hot streak these past 5 days, with 3 year ticks bagged, as well as the third ever Curlew on Sunday.

Elsewhere, on a muggy, largely cloudy day with an occasional welcoming westerly, it seemed a late fall of warblers had occurred, with a much larger than normal tally of Whitethroats throughout (sadly no Lesser, a bird that still eludes me on patch...). Both a Herring Gull and Cormorant flew over Hive Field, as did 4 raptor species. The Surrey Wildlife Trust have begun to move into Bonhurst Farm, and sadly one of their first actions was to mow the lush grass meadows that had benefited from a sheep-less spring. Full highlights:

07:15-08:40; 09:45-12:20

Mill Pond: 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♂), 5 Mute Swans, 1 Mandarin (), 1 Little Grebe, 1 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Grey Heron.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 REED WARBLER (sub-singing in S end of Phillimore, 07:35-07:50 at least), 1 Cuckoo, 1 Marsh Tit, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 7 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Gatestreet Farm: 19 Greylag Geese, 2 Red-legged Partridges and Blackcap.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Whitethroat, 5 Greylag Geese, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 3 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Scotsland Brook to New Barn: 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Whitethroats, 1 Marsh Tit, 2 Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps.

Hive Field (10:25-12:00): 1 Herring Gull (N at 11:27), 2 Whitethroats, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Skylark, 5+ Swifts, 1 Cormorant (N), 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 5+ House Martins, 8 Swallows, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 10+ Buzzards, 4 Chiffchaffs and 3 Blackcaps.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

21st May

A very lengthy and enjoyable session on patch today, with a number of standout birds, in largely sunny and hot conditions. The highlight was probably a Curlew that flew SE over Hive Field at 09:45. The bird was less than 100 feet up, and certainly not on a set mission anywhere. Indeed, I actually suspect it was scouting out potential breeding areas - there is a large patchwork of hay meadows here, and it was probably drawn in by the Machair-esque landscape! Whatever its intentions, this is just the 3rd record of Curlew here, after one in April 2015 and an individual over Allden's Hill in February this year.
Just like North Uist

Other notable birds during the sky-watch (that lasted nearly 5 hours, a couple of which were spent in the company of Matt P) at Hive Field included 7 Herring Gulls S/E, 2 singing Skylarks, 1 Cuckoo and 5 species of raptor on the wing. Away from Hive, 2 Marsh Tits and a Spotted Flycatcher were at Scotsland Brook, and 2 Siskins were heard over Juniper Hill.

Yesterday, a brief look before competing in the Mole Valley bird race yielded the usual fare, and thus I've refrained from doing a log for that day. As for the race, my team Linnet To Win It retained our crown with a surprisingly comfortable 93 species (second-place had 86). It was great to bird with Wes A again, an extremely knowledgeable birder, who's found heaps of good stuff in the Capel area. The bird of the day was a somewhat late Sandwich Tern at Buckland sand pit - a typically fine David C find.

Highlights from today as follows:

08:45-14:50

Mill Pond: 5 Mute Swans, 2 Little Grebes and 4 Mandarins (♂♂♂♀, plus 4 ducklings).

Gatestreet Farm: 17 Greylag Geese and 2 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 7 Greylag Geese, 12+ House Martins, 2 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Scotsland Brook to New Barn: 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Marsh Tits, 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Siskins, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 4 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs and 4 Buzzards.

Hive Field (09:45-14:35): 1 CURLEW (SE at 09:45), 1 Cuckoo, 7 Herring Gulls (1 E 10:14, 2 S 12:20 & 4 SE 13:04), 2 Skylarks, 1 Garden Warbler, 4+ Swifts, 2 House Martins, 7 Swallows, 12+ Buzzards, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 2 Linnets, 4 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Tilsey Farm: 1 Skylark, 1 Grey Wagtail (♂, Nobody's Pond), 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 2 Linnets, 2 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 5 House Martins and 20+ Swallows.

Friday, 19 May 2017

16th-19th May

Dotterel at Balemore, North Uist
Back after a few days in the Highlands. The main objective was to get Pied-billed Grebe and Black Duck on my Western Palearctic list, both of which were achieved, the latter a bit harder than expected with a couple of hybrid birds thrown into the mix. Clearly the drake's been enjoying himself, and it took some care to find the right guy. Up that far, it seemed rude not to pop over to North Uist, where the density of breeding waders, stunning Machair landscape and numerous Corncrakes made for a pleasant visit. Skua passage was disappointing - the winds were all wrong, and in 5 and a 1/2 hours I managed just 3 Long-tailed and 2 Pomarine, as well as a few unidentified birds that were miles out. A male Dotterel made up for the lack of Skuas, and other good birds on the trip included Golden Eagle, Puffins, Manx Shearwaters, 'Scottish' Crossbills and Short-eared Owls.

Anyway, today it was back to the patch in the cloud and rain. I had a long list of things to do so only a short-ish visit was managed, but the persisting joy of patching, that being the perennial hope that encourages one to look, struck. I had spent most mornings from mid-February to the end of March checking Rowe's Flashe for Pochards, and remarkably drew a blank (this species is normally annual at that time of year). Anyway, this morning, one of the first birds clocked on Mill Pond was a dapper pair of Pochard, on the far north side. Excellent. I had written this bird off after failing during the optimum period, so this was fantastic, and I now sit on 104 for the year.

The Pochard pair today
These birds are very rare on Mill Pond, and all previous records have been drakes after the breeding period. The fact this is a pair is interesting, though I'll be surprised if they stick. Mill Pond was actually quite busy - 2 Grey Herons were fishing, the 4 Mandarin ducklings remain with their mum and the drake Gadwall was about. Elsewhere, a Garden Warbler was at New Barn, the male Little Owl was hunting at Bonhurst and the first Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks were heard begging from a nest near Wintershall.

A small footnote - previously, I listed schedule 1 species in the sightings log when they were not close to breeding sites (my patch is very big). From now, this will cease, and no schedule 1 birds will be put on the blog. Furthermore, any schedule 1 species that are yet to be noted this year will also be omitted, unless they are clearly not breeding here or nearby. Highlights from today as follows:

11:40-13:15

Mill Pond: 2 Pochards (♂♀), 1 Gadwall (♂), 1 Little Grebe, 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 3 Mandarins ♂♂♀, plus 4 ducklings), 2 Grey Herons, 5 Mute Swans and 2 Blackcaps.

Combe Farm: 1 Buzzard, 3 Red-legged Partridges and 1 Chiffchaff.

Thorncombe Street: 3 Buzzards, 2 Swifts, 1 Swallow, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Scotsland Brook - Hive Field: 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Buzzards, 2 Swifts, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Little Owl, 3 Greylag Geese, 2 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Monday, 15 May 2017

15th May

A very early and brief visit, in drizzly and murky weather, before a long journey north. Highlights included another pair of Egyptian Geese, this time at Wintershall Ponds, with the species seemingly increasing here. This isn't totally surprising, given the huge amounts at nearby Busbridge. Indeed, I have always found it odd that they are traditionally infrequent here. Neither the Mute Swans or Gadwall were at Mill Pond.

North of the border, a Pied-billed Grebe on the rather remote Loch Feorlin was conveniently placed not far from our overnight stop, and I enjoyed distant views of the male, which has seemingly paired up with a Little Grebe. Indeed, the female had about 4 chicks in tow - sadly distance and weather conditions prevented me from getting even slightly good views of the young birds, but the Pied-billed certainly kept a close guard, and was aggressive towards any species coming too near. Highlights from both as follows:

05:40-06:20 (Thorncombe Street)

Mill Pond: 1 Tufted Duck (♂) and 1 Blackcap.

Combe Farm: 1 Buzzard and 4 Red-legged Partridges.

Wintershall ponds: 2 Egyptian Geese and 1 Blackcap.

Bonhurst Farm: 4 Greylag Geese, 2 House Martins, 3 Blackcaps and Linnets.

15:20-17:10 

Loch Feorlin: 1 Pied-billed Grebe (♂), 1 Little Grebe (+ 4, possible hybrid, chicks), 2 Hooded Crows, 1 Raven, 1 Cuckoo, 3 Willow Warblers, 1 Wheatear (♂), 1 Buzzard, 2 Grey Wagtails, 5 Lesser Redpolls, 15+ Skylarks and 30+ Meadow Pipits.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

14th May

A quick look before a busy, non-birding day, in grey conditions. I'm sure the afternoon would have been good for raptors, with the sun coming out. Not much of note - the drake Gadwall had moved to Eastwaters pond, and one of the Bonhurst Little Owls showed well. Matt P reported 5 Mandarin chicks at Rowe's Flashe, the second breeding confirmation in the recording area this year. Highlights:

06:20-07:35

Mill Pond: 6 Mute Swans, 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀) and 3 Blackcaps.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Gadwall (♂, Eastwaters pond), 3 Blackcaps and 5 Red-legged Partridges.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Mandarin, 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀), 3 Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Little Owl, 4 Greylag Geese, 2 Linnets, 2 Grey Herons (NE) and 2 Blackcaps.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

13th May

Started off wet, and intermittent showers continued until the middle of the day. A warm south-westerly throughout, with the sun largely breaking through by the late afternoon. In total it was a relatively lengthy session, though nothing striking was seen. 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls moving high north-east over Hive Field under a dark cloud at 15:17 was a seemingly typical May passage record of this species. Elsewhere, at least 1 Spotted Flycatcher was present in Great Brook, an unseasonable Siskin was near Rowe Barn Farm, 2 Egyptian Geese were in Thorncombe Park and the first Little Grebe young of the year was seen.

At this stage, I've recorded pretty much all the regular, expected patch birds. A couple of species I hope I can still bump into remain (Barn Owl, Brambling etc), and Ring Ouzel is likely in the autumn, but it seems the chance of a bonus spring migrant (e.g. Nightingale, Redstart) has passed, and reaching my previously stated goal of 120 seems pretty ambitious. Still, this place has sprung a few surprises during these last few years, and it's all about being in the POMO (position of maximum opportunity, as drilled into me by many a football coach as a kid!) for the rest of 2017. I'm still undecided on why my POMO is, maybe the Ridge, possibly Allden's Hill or perhaps Hive Field - it's probably best to spread my bets.

I must give a few words to some recent mammalian observations. A Bank Vole at Winkworth this morning became the 13th mammal recorded this year. In the last week I have enjoyed two encounters with a Stoat, in the same place, suggesting local breeding. Bird sightings of interest are as follows:

07:05-10:20; 14:05-17:00

Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 1 Cormorant, 1 Grey Heron, 6 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀♂♀), 1 Little Grebe, 1 Mandarin (♀ + 4 young), 6 Mute Swans and 1 Blackcap.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Greylag Goose, 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 1 Little Grebe, 3 Blackcaps and 3 Chiffchaffs.


Thorncombe Street: 2 Egyptian Geese, 4 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Blackcaps, 10 Swallows and 1 Siskin.

Bonhurst Farm: 4 Greylag Geese, 5 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Scotsland Farm-Leg-of-Mutton Copse-New Barn: 1+ Spotted Flycatcher (Great Brook), 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Little Grebes (+ 1 chick, on New Barn Pond), 4 Red-legged Partridges, 6 Swallows, 1 Buzzard, 1 Red Kite, 4 Chiffchaffs and 8 Blackcaps.

Hive Field (14:20-16:50): 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (high NE 15:17), 2 Swifts, 1 Raven, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 8+ Buzzards, 2 Red Kites, 7 Swallows, 3 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Friday, 12 May 2017

12th May

Today started fairly bright, but showers and grey cloud then dominated as a southerly wind kept things muggy. Rather quiet, though again Sylvia warblers stood out and a flock of House Martins at Bonhurst had seemingly been pushed down by rain, and were probably migrating. The drake Gadwall at Mill Pond has already begun his eclipse moult, and will likely be present throughout the summer - this species has never previously been recorded in the June or July. Highlights as follows:

07:05-09:15

Tilsey Farm: 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Whitethroats, 1 Skylark, 1 Red Kite, 2 Chiffchaffs and 4 Blackcaps.

Winkworth Arboretum: 2 Little Grebes, 1 Grey Wagtail, 4 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs & 7 Tufted Ducks (♂x5).

Bonhurst Farm: 10+ House Martins, 4 Greylag Geese and 2 Linnets.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Whitethroat, 2 Buzzards, 17 Swallows

Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 1 Blackcap and 6 Mute Swans.

Bramley Park Lake: 1 Cormorant, 1 Blackcap, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Grey Wagtail, 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀).

Thursday, 11 May 2017

11th May

A rather muggy day, with a gentle ESE and some sunny periods, the latter proving popular with the local raptors. I anticipated the first Hobby of the year and duly got it, with a bird thermalling over Thorncombe Park. 2 different singing Skylarks was a nice surprise, though perhaps they are both unpaired, and there were also 2 male Cuckoos across the site. The first Mandarin and Starling young of the year and a notable number of Sylvia warblers were further additions to a decent session. Highlights as follows:

10:30-14:20

Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 2 Little Grebes, 6 Mandarins (+ 4 chicks), 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀), 2 Greylag Geese, 6 Mute Swans, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Thorncombe Park: 1 Little Owl & 2 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Cuckoo (♂), 2 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Ridge (11:35-12:35): 1 Hobby (c.12:00), 1 Cuckoo (♂), 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 10+ Buzzards, 5 Red-legged Partridges, 1 Red Kite, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 12 Swallows (N), 2 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff & 6 Linnets.

Tilsey Farm: 2 Whitethroats, 1 Skylark, 2 Swifts, 4 Swallows, 2 Buzzards, 1 Blackcap and 15+ Starling (+ 2 juveniles).

Goose Green: 1 Skylark, 2 Buzzards and 11 Greylag Geese (+ 6 young).

Bramley Park Lake: 1 Grey Wagtail (♂ carrying food to nest) and 1 Grey Heron.

9th-10th May

With time currently on my hands, I took advantage of some very cheap return flights to Malaga (£27 with Easyjet), primarily to take in the raptor migration of the Straits of Gibraltar, but also to enjoy the sun of the Costa del Sol with my girlfriend. With conditions and wind direction ideal (indeed, possibly perfect), some big tallies were notched up on both (brief) migration sessions, with the Wednesday particularly bonkers. The highlight was an extremely lucky encounter with a 2nd or 3rd-year Rüppell's Vulture, migrating with Griffons, which represented a very welcome Western Palearctic tick for me. The number and views of Honey-buzzards was both enjoyable and useful ahead of the summer in England.
Rüppell's Vulture over Punta Secreta

One of the other bird related activities involved a morning visit to Bolonia, where White-rumped Swift was dipped. This site is no longer considered reliable (an area east of Malaga is the new go-to place), and it was perhaps a bit early in the season. Before the airport, we made a visit to Laguna de Feunte de Piedra, home to the second biggest Greater Flamingo colony in the WP (second only to the Camargue). Here, in windy conditions, the distant flocks of up to 20,000 birds contained my target, and it took a good hour before I finally picked out two Lesser Flamingos, the second lifer of the trip. These birds are thought to be expanding north from sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. there's a small population in Mauritania), and whilst the odd collection escapee has been found in the colony, the consensus is that, like the aforementioned Vulture, this is another species moving up.

On that note, the surprise of the trip was a Laughing Dove over the C341 near Huertas y Montes. I must confess to being ignorant to their presence here - apparently a small population exists, and yet again seems to be a case of a species moving north. I enjoyed several of these delightful birds in Morocco earlier in the year, and they were a pleasing addition to a final trip list of 76, which also contained decent bits like Western Olivaceous Warbler, Gull-billed Tern and Iberian Green Woodpecker. Highlights from the 3 main birding sessions are as follows:

9th

14:00-16:00

Gibraltar (Upper Rock): 19 Honey-buzzards, 33 Black Kites, 14 Booted Eagles, 17 Griffon Vultures, 1 Egyptian Vulture, 2 Lesser Kestrels, 1 Peregrine, 100+ Yellow-legged Gulls and 5 Sardinian Warblers.
Greater Flamingos at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra

10th

11:10-12:15

Punta Secreta: 1 Rüppell's Vulture (11:28, with 6 Griffons), 41 Honey-buzzards, 44 Black Kites, 24 Booted Eagles, 6 Short-toed Eagles, 68 Griffon Vultures, 1 Egyptian Vulture, 1 Bee-eater, 1 White Stork, 10 Pallid Swifts, 3 Serins and 10 Yellow-legged Gulls.

15:00-18:00

Lagune de Fuente de Piedra: 2 Lesser Flamingos, (approximately) 20,000 Greater Flamingos, 30+ Gull-billed Terns, 2+ Western Olivaceous Warblers, 4 Zitting Cisticolas, 1 Booted Eagle, 1 Marsh Harrier, 1 Montagu's Harrier, 8 Lesser Kestrels, 10 Avocets, 20 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Sanderling, 10 Little Stints, 2 Wood Sandpipiers, 2 Kentish Plovers, 2 Crested Larks, 15 Ringed Plovers & 1 Garganey.

Monday, 8 May 2017

8th May

As a renowned former Surrey birder used to say, every year is different. On the 7th and 8th May 2016, prolonged southerlies and warm weather produced both Montagu's Harrier and Nightingale on the patch, along with good numbers of commoner migrants. Today, the uncomfortable north-easterlies of late switched to a straight north wind, and combined with full grey cloud the recipe for a quiet session was complete. However, eventually some decent stuff was found, though it took 3 separate visits to yield them.
The Turtle Dove at Imbhams Farm, Haslemere

The first Spotted Flycatcher of the year at Selhurst Common was perhaps a reward for a couple of hours of not much else in the first two spells (including a particularly dead sky-watch). This represents a rather early returning bird, and is the 103rd species of 2017. A male Wheatear in the afternoon at Bonhurst Farm was late, and only the 2nd of the year. It showed strong features of the Greenland race Leucorhoa, including very buffy underparts. Elsewhere, the first Coot chicks of the year were noted, the drake Gadwall reappeared, a record high flock of 37 Stock Doves was counted and a couple of Cormorants flew over.

The Flycatcher, back on one of the 3 known territories across the recording area, is a species that, despite national trends, is really thriving here. I have long believed the quiet, unexplored corners of south-west Surrey still hold some of our most threatened or scarce birds, and Spotted Flycatcher is one of a number of examples on my patch alone. Later in the day this belief was reaffirmed further, when Rich Ford found a Turtle Dove at Imbhams Farm, near Haslemere. A favourite of mine, I was quick to twitch it, and eventually enjoyed prolonged views of the bird feeding on the road.

There were a couple of records on my bit last year, and this is another species that surely hangs on locally. I would love to know exactly where, though. Highlights from both the patch and Imbhams Farm respectively are as follows:

08:20-10:05; 11:25-13:00; 17:15-18:20

Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 2 Little Grebes, 2 Greylag Geese, 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀), 2 Coots (+ 2 chicks), 1 Blackcap and 6 Mute Swans.

The presumed Greenland Wheatear at Bonhurst
Winkworth Arboretum: 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀ ♂♀), 1 Grey Wagtail, 2 Swallows and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Spotted Flycatcher (Selhurst Common) and 1 Whitethroat (♂, just S of Slade's Farm).

Goose Green: 1 Cormorant S, 2 Blackcaps and  15+ Greylag Geese.

Allden's Hill (11:35-12:35): 1 Cormorant N, 2 Red Kites, 5 Buzzards, 2 Swallows, 1 Red-legged Partridge, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Blackcaps, 1 Kestrel (♂) and 2 Grey Herons S.

Combe Farm: 2 Greylag Geese, 3 Red-legged Partridges, 1 Grey Heron and 37 Stock Doves.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Wheatear (♂, presumed Greenland Leucorhoa race), 3 Linnet, 2 Greylag Geese and 2 Blackcaps.

13:15-14:00 

Imbhams Farm: 1 Turtle Dove (purring and occasionally feeding on the ground), 1 Garden Warbler, 3 Buzzards, 4 Swallows and 2 Blackcaps.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

6th May

Hazy, and the blustery north-east winds continuing, but a great record of 2 Common Terns at Bramley Park Lake made the relatively early (for a Saturday!) start worthwhile. The birds, presumably a pair, were picked up at 06:48 and left south-west at 06:55, one having caught a fish. This is in fact only the 5th documented record of this species here, though it's very likely many more have flown over. However, it remains a rare patch bird, with about 2 a year average. 5 Cormorants here was notable for the time of year. Elsewhere, a female Cuckoo was a very pleasing (and uncommon) sight, and a few more Swifts moved east. Highlights as follows:

06:30-08:30

Bramley Park Lake: 2 Common Terns c.06:48-06:55, then SW, 5 Cormorants, 1 Blackcap and 1 Grey Heron.

Mill Pond: 6 Mute Swans and 2 Grey Herons.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Whitethroat, 1 Raven and 4 Red-legged Partridges.

Winkworth Arboretum: 6 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀♂♀), 2 Mandarins (♂♂), 3 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Scrubbin's Pond: 10+ Greylag Geese (+ 19 chicks), 3 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Red Kite, 3 Buzzards and 5 Swifts E.

Palmer's Cross: 1 Cuckoo () and 2 Blackcaps.

Friday, 5 May 2017

5th May

A reasonable session after a slow start, with blustery north-easterly winds and occasional periods of sun resulted in a decent push of Hirundines and Swifts during the middle of the day (the latter becoming the 101st species recorded in 2017). Also, a Peregrine and 3 Lapwing were seen, the 3rd and 4th records of the year for these species respectively. Furthermore, the first Moorhen, Greylag Geese and Canada Geese chicks of the year were noted. Sightings of note are as follows:

07:15-09:20; 11:00-13:30

Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 6 Mute Swans and 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀)

Winkworth Arboretum: 2 Mandarins (♂♂), 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 2 Red-legged Partridges, 3 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Slade's Farm - Ridge: 4 Greylag Geese, 2 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 3 Red-legged Partridges and 3 Buzzards.

Leg-of-Mutton Copse - Juniper Hill - New Barn: 1 3rd c/y Lesser Black-backed Gull S, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 12 Blackcaps and 5 Chiffchaffs.

Hive Field (11:30-13:10): 1 Peregrine E 11:42, 1 2nd c/y Lesser Black-backed Gull NE 12:01, 31 Swifts N/E, 30 Swallows N/E, 14 House Martins N/E, 2 Red Kites, 7 Buzzards and 2 Blackcaps. 2 Mandarins (♂♀) and 2 Moorhens (+ 4 chicks) on Nobody's Pond.

Tilsey Farm: 1 Skylark, 1 Kestrel (♀), 2 Buzzards, 1 Red Kite, 2 Linnets, 3 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

A281 (at Rooks Hill): 3 Lapwings fairly low E over the road.

Scrubbin's Pond: 2 Swifts E, 1 Grey Heron, 17 Greylag Geese (+ 20 goslings!) and 2 Canada Geese (+ 4 goslings).

Thursday, 4 May 2017

4th May

A late and fairly brief visit, my first since returning from Poland. A grey and hazy morning produced little of note, until I located a female Red-crested Pochard on Bramley Park Lake, with a small flock of Mallards. Presumably, this is the female who was present on and off from November until February. Her whereabouts in the intervening time is mysterious to say the least. Sightings of note are as follows:

08:45-09:45; 11:15-11:50

Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 6 Mute Swans, 2 Grey Wagtails (♂♀) and 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀).

Thorncombe Street - Allden's Hill: 1 Cuckoo (♂), 1 Cormorant N, 1 Raven, 2 Red Kites, 1 Buzzard, 5 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Grey Herons, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Birtley House Pond: 2 Egyptian Geese, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Bramley Park Lake: 1 Red-crested Pochard (♀), 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀) and 1 Grey Wagtail.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

18th-25th April

Since Bank Holiday Monday, arguably the best spring day so far this year, things have been really slow on the patch. The continued north wind hasn't helped - today was particularly chilly, and there were next to no signs of migration. It's also been astonishingly dry, making it even harder for a fall of passerines or the lowering of migrating Waders, Terns etc to occur. Despite this, 70 species have been recorded in the last week, the most pleasing being the first Wheatear of the year that was briefly present on the Ridge yesterday. The bird, a male, flew from the north facing crop into a tree (watching it perched up there a rather odd sight) not long after dawn, before disappearing. Later in the day a singing Whitethroat, rather late this year, became the 100th Thorncombe Street bird of 2017, and my 99th.
The Wheatear yesterday

Also notable yesterday was a small movement of Gulls, just ahead of some seriously dark cloud that looked certain to produce rain, but didn't. An adult Great Black-backed was the 4th of the year, and 5 Herrings and a single Lesser Black-backed also moved through. 3 of the latter drifted over the Tilsey Farm area on the 19th, and a couple of Yellowhammers were heard, pleasing given the time of year. It seems this species if breeding just beyond the southern boundary of the recording area. A farm worker also told me of a couple of Barn Owl records from January, likely one of the Smithbrook/Whipley birds. The area looks good for Barn Owls, and I had a couple of failed attempts at seeing them here in the winter. The valley Cuckoo is now singing daily, from various locations, and the local Swallows and Willow Warblers are back on territory.

Away from the patch, I managed a morning catch up with David Campbell at Canons Farm on Wednesday, and on the 23rd enjoyed Tree Pipits, Reed Warblers, Woodlarks and Common Terns at Frensham. Hopefully, the weather will change, though the short-term forecast isn't fantastic, potentially delaying the arrival of the later migrants (Hobby, Spotted Flycatcher etc). I will be spending the next few days in north-east Poland, and hope to return to warm southerlies and Mediterranean overshoots!

Monday, 17 April 2017

17th April

A fantastic, 10.5 hour spring session on the patch today. The migrants finally came (and in numbers), and a sensational flock of about 70  unconfirmed wader species flew over, as the 'Hascombe Gap' delivered in style this afternoon. I could write a long post about today, but I will try and keep it short.

Sam Jones and I planned a big day on the patch, and as soon as I got out the car just before dawn the welcome sound of a Cuckoo greeted me, as what was presumably the returning valley bird sang from Allden's Hill. Remarkably, we had 3 more birds before we called it a day at 16:00. A lengthy vis-mig from the Ridge was largely a catch up, as we exchanged stories about our recent trips to Morocco, but 4 House Martins north represented year tick number two of the morning. A Willow Warbler sang from Furze Field, and we went on to hear 6 more, quite an increase on recent days. A couple of 3rd-year Lesser Black-backed Gulls drifted north, and a Tufted Duck pair west was a Ridge tick.

We weaved through the patch, picking up Garden Warbler, Meadow Pipits and more Hirundines. A Blackcap at New Barn, uttering a remarkable and varied mimicry selection, threw us for a while. We then set up shop for a sky-watch inside the Hascombe Gap, and we were to be rewarded, as low cloud sent a nice selection of migrants through. Matt Phelps joined us at 12:15, by which point we'd racked up 5 raptor species, and it wasn't long after his arrival when I picked up a distant, very big flock of birds flying north-east. What seemed like a skein of Geese were travelling at some height, and as the others got on them we were stumped as to their ID. We began to veer away from Geese, as Matt noted the lack of elongated necks in his scope, and then the group of around 70 individuals 'whiffled' down, and it seemed apparent these were large waders.

Unfortuantely, we lost them in the cloud. Upon reflection, and a long look at different plates and photos, I reckon they were Godwits, and very likely Bar-tailed. We will never be certain, but a flock of that size is a colossal Surrey record, whether they were Black or Bar-tailed. Slightly frustrating, but the spectacle of a group that big, clearly migrating over a load of fields and woods on my patch, was simply fantastic. Not long before we set off, a single Sand Martin came through with some more House Martins, part of a steady northerly Hirundine movement during the watch. These are not easy patch birds, and it took me to 97 for the year. Unusually for mid-April here, Gulls too were moving, with numbers of Herring and Lesser Black-backed's, as well as a sole Black-headed, going the same direction as the Godwits. As we headed back to the car, another Cuckoo flew over Nore Hanger, and we had 2 more near Mill Pond. 

A fantastic day on the patch. Spring has sprung, and I really believe that there are more surprises to be had in 2017. Bring it on!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

11th- 15th April: The Hascombe Gap and the Shalford Split

Following the excitement of last Sunday, things have gone back to a more gentle pace, with spring still fairly slow to arrive. On the 11th, no fewer than 3 Garden Warblers across the site represented a year tick, coming a day later than the first of 2016. A singing Willow Warbler (2 more today, at New Barn) was part of 61 species that day, but as I write this I still haven't seen either Martins, Wheatear, Cuckoo or Whitethroat. All of these I expect to record in the coming days and weeks, but a flyover Yellow Wagtail this morning was quite a surprise. Normally just 1 or 2 records a year, and almost exclusively in autumn, an early vis-mig session was rewarded today as an individual flew NNE over the Ridge, calling, at 06:48. In fact, despite the continued northerly wind, the first 40 minutes or so were decent, with 5 Swallows, 2 Linnets and a single Meadow Pipit heading north, and 5 Cormorants and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull east.

2 more Gull species (Black-headed and Herring) were noted elsewhere throughout the morning, the first for a while. It was a Great Black-backed Gull on Thursday that got me thinking, and prompted me to get my maps out, resulting in this post. An adult (the 3rd record of the year) drifted over Scotsland Brook, quite out of place, at around 16:35. It soon struck me - within about a half kilometre from here to the west, I had seen Kittiwake, Great Black-backed Gull and 2 Cattle Egrets, all flying north, in the last 3 weeks. There surely had to be some reason behind this remarkable run, and below is a possible theory I have come up with.

The Hascombe Gap


Hascombe Gap map
The River Arun joins the English Channel at Littlehampton, and if one follows it north, it passes through such birding hotspots as Arundel WWT, Pulborough Brooks (where the river splits) and Climping Gap. At Loxwood, it splits. The Arun continues east, towards Horsham, and the Wey & Arun Canal goes north and west towards Surrey. Near Dunsfold, there is another, smaller split. The Wey & Arun Canal continues north and east, skirting the east of my patch near Cranleigh, eventually joining with the Wey at Shalford. To the north and west, a series of unnamed tributaries run for a short distance before they all stop around Loxhill, just before Hascombe.

The gap just beyond this collective stop, between Loxhill and Hascombe, is where the aforementioned sightings have come from. It seems possible that any birds following the Arun from the coast (should they not deviate at Pulborough/Loxwood) will find themselves here, at the end of the thinning streams, and will perhaps drop down to reorientate. It takes some favourable decision making, and maybe is a little ambitious, but it's just about possible. On a larger level, the gap extends from Loxhill in the west to Smithbrook/Rowly in the east, where the Wey & Arun canal is found continuing north, so this whole area could turn up something. Given the gap is most likely to effect birds moving up, spring is likely the best season for wayward bits and pieces.

It would seem any bird that has ended up here, should it wish to carry on following water, would have little choice but to continue north, through and just past the top of the patch, where the Wey & Arun meets the Wey at Shalford. The Thorncombe valley provides a natural funnel for this short journey, and would go someway to explaining the occurrence of species like White-fronted & Brent Goose, (presumed) Bewick's Swan, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel and a plethora of Raptors and Passerines all heading north/south over the last few years.

On the contrary, birds turn up at any place, and at any time, and maybe it's all just freak fortune!

The Shalford Split


Shalford Split map
This flyway theory was raised many years ago by Unstead Sewage Farm regulars. The river splits at Shalford, with the Wey & Arun Canal going south and west, and the Wey east. Unstead sits directly to the south of this split, with my patch a little further down. In theory this is two flyways meeting, and there is much evidence of birds using them and switching between the two in the last few decades.

Long-tailed Skua, a host of Gulls (including Sabine's and a flock of c.60 Kittiwakes), and a myriad of Waders/Raptors/Herons etc have all been recorded at Unstead. I am likely to miss any birds that are successfully following either river, perhaps being a bit far south of the split, but anything reorientating could/has passed over.

This, also, could be pie in the sky. Some theories suggest flyways don't really exist. Perhaps this is all overthought. Personally, I think there could be some logic behind it, and I will certainly be keeping it all in mind during the coming weeks.

Monday, 10 April 2017

10th April

Since my return from a trip to Spain and Morocco (which was packed full of birds, including some really special Western Palearctic stuff) it's been quiet on the patch. In the 10 days since I've been back, the only passerine year ticks I've managed are Swallow on the 4th (pretty much daily since, with 34 through on the 6th) and Willow Warbler, with a tired sounding bird heard on the Ridge on the 8th. Whenever I come back from a trip the low density of birds compared to where I've been hits me. Surrey is relatively poor even within a national context, so compared to somewhere like Spain it can seem pretty bleak. And thus, during a spell of glorious weather, on Saturday I tweeted about yet another quiet shift on patch, with the fine conditions seemingly too good for migrants to pitch down. This lull would be turned on its head, however.
Red Kite over the Ridge on Sunday (DC)

It is remarkable how a number of tiny decisions and moments can culminate in being somewhere at a certain time. It was Sunday morning. Relatively hungover, the girlfriend and I were up early, and I wasn't too sure if I'd check the patch before work, particularly given the recent quiet spell. With the sun shining I figured it'd be rude not to, so off we set, stopping first at Mill Pond where I spent slightly longer than normal to enjoy a singing Reed Bunting, a first here, and the drake Gadwall that's trying to pair up with a Mallard. A quick check of Slade's didn't produce the hoped for Wheatear, and on the way back I bumped into Dave Carlsson, who was aiming to get some decent pictures up on the Ridge. As you can see, he got some amazing shots, and we chatted for a bit before I set off through Thorncombe Street, in the direction of Bonhurst. As we approached the Scotsland lay-by I, for some reason, thought it wise to stop. For the first time this year it was dry enough to park, and I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to walk Great Brook or Leg-of-Mutton Copse. The latter site I don't visit often - my last session here was March 16th, but she fancied it, in the hope of some Bluebell photography.

There wasn't a great deal of birdsong, and as we weaved through the deciduous part of the wood I pondered the chance of a Pied Flycatcher here later in the spring. We came to the felled area at the south of Juniper Hill, which looks out south towards Hascombe, and my attention was immediately drawn to 2 gleaming white birds flying high north. It didn't take long to figure there were Egrets, and the slightly jerky flight and dumpy appearance strongly suggested Cattle. Panic ensued, and as I got the bins on them the shorter legs and wings were noted, and the dumpy and rounded appearance was made clearer - it was quite apparent these were two Cattle Egrets! Given the many times I've seen this species, the ID was perhaps easier that one might imagine, and happy with what I saw I raced to get a shot before they disappeared over the canopy. I managed one poor effort (they were seriously high), and only after they'd left did I register that Cattle Egret is still very much a mega in Surrey. There are only 2 previous records, one of them coming only last December, via Steve Gale.
A crap record shot of the 2 Cattle Egrets moving
N over Leg-of-Mutton Copse on Sunday 9th April

I put the news out as soon as I had signal. Sadly Dave didn't have them over the Ridge (they would have gone that way surely), and Brian Milton didn't at Unstead. These birds were clearly on the move, no doubt using the southerly airflow to migrate. I was reminded of a snippet from Peter Alfrey's wonderful Non-stop Birding blog which he'd posted the day before in one of his weather forecast pieces - "Spring overshoot weather today and tomorrow- a southerly airflow drawing from Southern Europe which could bring southern scarcities such as Black-winged Stilts, Southern Herons, Quail etc.". As bonkers as it was, as completely unexpected as it seemed and in a place I would never have guessed, it was Cattle Egret that became the 145th Thorncombe Street area bird, and my 130th! Surely in a decade or two this species will become as regular as Little. After breeding success, colonisation was delayed following some severe winters around 2009, but this year saw record numbers in the UK, and I presume my 2 were movers from the wintering population. I expect another Surrey record before 2018.

So, with Spring slow to get going, and after some very quiet sessions, patience and perseverance was rewarded in style. My adoration for my patch was reaffirmed, and perhaps these two Egrets were a close to a chapter here. My working life is set to change hugely in the coming weeks, and with it my time birding will inevitably be cut down. Whatever the future holds though, April 9th 2017 will always remind me that you can never lose faith with the patch.