Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

2016 patch review

2016 was another interesting year on my Thorncombe Street patch. 2015 was the first time I'd thoroughly recorded every species I saw, and it culminated in the creation of a report, with much help from Matt Phelps, who co-produced it with me. It was always going to be hard to follow up such a productive 12 months, but it produced just one off the 2015 total for my year list, with 115, far greater than my 105 total in 2014. There were less new birds for the recording area than in 2015 (namely Grey Partridge, Montagu's Harrier, Woodlark and Tree Pipit), but 2016 will be remembered by me as the year of the catch up. I managed to see a fantastic 6 species of birds that had been historically recorded, but never by me, including some real patch rares, such as Wood Warbler, Osprey and Nightingale. In all, 2016 left my life total at 127.
Late summer over Slade's Farm

With Matt leaving his job at Winkworth in the spring, records from the arboretum naturally fell. I'm sure I missed some decent birds that he would have found. Aside from myself, coverage was minimal. Thorncombe Street is still largely not visited by Surrey birders, and pretty much all the records come from myself. The county's land-locked geography perhaps produces a lack of local coverage cycle. Less rarities turn up than at the coast, for example, and this in itself encourages Surrey birders to twitch as oppose to patch or local bird, thus meaning less rares are found. However, I like the peace and quiet, and development in the patch is very slow paced. Only one new house went up in the entire 10km+² recording area, and bar a couple of trees being hacked down no habitat change occurred. The vast estate land, and lack of people around, no doubt helps the list of elusive Surrey breeders that were successful in 2016, among them Raven, Red Kite, Hobby and both Grey and Red-legged Partridge.

Red-legged Partridges bred successfully
I thought a monthly summary would be fun, but perhaps that would be a bit much, and so I have decided to go with a seasonal theme. Watching the changes in the natural world throughout the year will always give me happiness, so it seems apt to go along those lines here.

Winter bird of 2016

This bird is perhaps still present, having last been seen on 24th December - Red-crested Pochard. On 13th November I was amazed to find a female on Bramley Park Lake, the first in the recording area since 1999. The surprise continued as the bird stuck about, frequenting Mill Pond, and was enjoyed by a number of visiting birders. Remarkably, 2 females were seen on December 4th and on the 23rd. As I mentioned, this/these birds could well still be about. They are elusive, enjoying the seclusion of the waterside vegetation, and can be tricky to pick out. I have no idea where they have come from, but hope to get the species on my 2017 year list
2 Red-crested Pochards on Mill Pond on 4th December

Spring bird of 2016

Really, the spring bird of 2016 features later as bird of the year, but there was some quality contenders. It's a straight shootout between 2 of my favourite songsters, Woodlark and Nightingale, and I will choose the latter. This bird not only hung around for the best part of a week in early May, it also both sang and showed well, from the unusual location of Clock House Lane. Credit for this find lies at the feet of Nigel Matthias, who tweeted about the birds presence, and I have to say it was fun to twitch a bird on my patch! A much sought after 'catch up', with the last recorded birds in the 1980's.

Summer bird of 2016

The May Nightingale on Clock House Lane
In the spring I did several recce's of the local area, in a failed attempt to locate a bird that has severely declined in Britain. I persisted on the patch, constantly thinking patches of habitat were still OK for this bird, but had no joy. So, I was both surprised and utterly delighted on 18th July to hear a purring Turtle Dove from Allden's Hill. It was a sweltering day, hitting 30 degrees, and the bird was clearly somewhere to the NW, in the Munstead direction. 10 days later I got even more lucky, as, from Allden's Hill, I witnessed one fly SE down the valley in the late morning. Whilst overjoyed to get this bird on my patch list, I was frustrated at never being able to pin one down. I invested so many hours trying, from late April to August, but ultimately the species eluded me. However, it gave me no doubt that Turtle Doves do indeed hang on in the south-west Surrey countryside, somewhere (I'd love to know where!).

Autumn bird of 2016

A few contenders for this one. Both Wood and Sedge Warbler were brilliant 'catch up' birds, and another Marsh Harrer was fantastic, but they were all topped by an Osprey, which glided slowly south over Thorncombe Park on 8th September, before disappearing back north. The bird was mobbed by a local Buzzard in it's 10/15 minute saunter over the area, on what was a fantastic day in general on the patch. Yet another bird that had been seen before, but not by me, I had been expecting to add Osprey to my Thorncombe Street life list for a while before seeing this one. I am hopeful of seeing more in the future - one hung around for nearly a week in 2013.
The view from Allden's Hill

Best bird of 2016

Without a shadow of a doubt, not only my best patch moment ever but also one of my best birding ones so far, was the sheer elation of a flyover male Montagu's Harrier on 7th May. I will remember that day for a very long time. The previous night I had checked the weather and it looked perfect for movement, and indeed for raptors, and when Lee Evans tweeted something along the lines of "eyes up tomorrow, expect the spectacular (Griffon!)", I knew exactly where I would be sitting for a few hours. In glorious sunshine, with a Cuckoo and Garden Warblers singing around me, I enjoyed 5 other raptor species (including 31 Buzzards). Clear stuff was coming through, with my first Swifts and Hobby of the year flying north, but all was overshadowed by that distant, drifting silhouette of a Harrier, that became clear as it flew out of the light at 11:39. Absolute magic, for me what birding is all about.

A little mention must go to the Grey Partridges that amazingly bred on the patch. They were first seen in March, but stuck around, being exceptionally elusive. I have not seen them for some months now, and can only hope they are avoiding the seemingly daily blast of the guns.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier over Allden's Hill on 30th August
Disappointment of 2016

Not too many, thankfully, but there was a dearth of waders for sure. In 2015 Snipe, Common & Green Sandpiper, Curlew, Lapwing, Woodcock, Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel were all recorded. Granted, I didn't see all of them, and that is a frankly ridiculous haul for an inland, largely dry site, but in 2016 I had just Lapwing and Woodcock! Hopefully this year will change - the Godwit and both Sandpipers remain off my life list, so I shall be trying extra hard for them.

Another disappointment was the rejection by the Surrey Bird Club Rarities Committee of Matt and I's Little Bunting, on 24th October 2015. Upon reflection, I can understand the decision. A fleeting view of a calling species neither of us had experience with is pretty much impossible to pass through, especially given it's status in the county. However, we both are certain it was a Little Bunting - there is nothing else it could have been. Anyway, it must go down as one that got away, on a county level at least. I have submitted a batch of newer records (many of them joint, with Matt), including the Montagu's, and await their outcome with particular interest.

Ravens - another successful breeder
Best migration day of 2016

8th September - Osprey, Tree Pipit (patch first), 7 Yellow Wagtails, 5 other raptor species and hundreds of Hirundines from the Ridge in the space of a few hours - beautiful stuff. A special mention to 30th March (first Swallows and Willow Warbler, Great & Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a site record count of 103 Meadow Pipits north) and also 7th May (Monty's, first Swifts and Hobby). Vis-mig, and watching the birds come and go, is the underlying and continual enjoyment I get from birding. Here's to 2017.