Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 2 January 2017

2nd January

A New Year, and a new patch list to begin. In 2015 and 2016, for the first time, I kept county, British and Western Palearctic (WP) year lists, but I won't be doing that in 2017. For me at least, year listing takes away some of the pleasure of simply watching and enjoying birds. I will keep a patch list, as ever, and that's all. With several WP adventures planned for the year ahead I have 2 main goals - to submit all my local records to Birdtrack, and to try my hardest to nail the patch. Last year I did well, matching my 2015 total of 116 different species. So, for 2017, I have ambitiously set the target of 120. This will be a tough ask, and shall require a number of rarities, but with 2 days of the year gone I sit on a very satisfying 66, a figure I didn't reach in 2016 until January 28th.
A male Reed Bunting on the Ridge
Yesterday, I was delighted in particular with 2 species that aren't easy to get in the Thorncombe Street area. At dawn, 2 Little Egrets flew over Mill Pond, seemingly having taken off from over the fence in Snowdenham House. Luke, the Thorncombe Park gamekeeper, stopped to say Happy New Year as I was scanning the water, and told me how he had seen a few Egrets within the estate recently. They are rare here, and in 2016 I had just 2 all year, so to have that same number within a few minutes of sunrise in 2017 was fantastic. As it happened, I had another one flying south over Winkworth later on.

The other highlight from the 1st was not a species that is neccessarily rare here, but one that is extremely hard to see - Woodcock. In 2015 I didn't see any until November, and last year December, so when I flushed 2 from Phillimore, in Winkworth, I was particularly pleased. There are doubtless many out there, but they are so well hidden and have plenty of habitat to skulk in. A fine start to 2017 was rounded off nicely at Bonhurst Farm, with a calling Little Owl and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, that flew over west with a group of vocal Herring Gulls.

2 Red Kites near Middle Copse
Today started at Mill Pond, where again I failed to find the female Red-crested Pochard, that was last seen on Christmas Eve. I say the female - there have been 2 knocking about, occasionally together. I hope the temperatures drop a bit, as many more ducks, including the Pochards, frequent the pond when it's cold. The single male Mute Swan was still present, but with little else about it was onto Slade's Farm, where my girlfriend and I were to begin a mammoth walk of the patch. The plan was up over the Ridge all the way through to Leg-of-Mutton Copse/Juniper Hill, before going back via New Barn, Tilsey Farm and Selhurst Common.

By the time we'd reached the Ridge the 'big three' of patch specialities had all been seen - Red Kite, Raven and Red-legged Partridge. The latter, a group of 6 birds, were the first I'd recorded since December 9th - this species becomes harder to see in mid-winter, as they either try to avoid or don't avoid the shooters. Apart from a few gulls and many Woodpigeons, not much was moving in the skies, and the Bunting/Finch flock on the sacrificial crops was small, and mainly consisted of Reed Buntings. A sole Fieldfare chakked away here, one of just two seen all day (Redwing numbers weren't exactly high either). We moved on, via Junction Field and Gatestreet Farm, and passed through Wintershall where a sole Egyptian Goose was hanging around with an individual Canada Goose and two monstrous looking hybrid Geese.
The female Crossbill at Juniper Hill

We stopped for coffee and a sit down in Middle Copse Field, enjoying decent perched views of 2 Kites. This species was seen in numbers today - at least 8, no doubt the sunshine helping get a few birds up in the air. I hoped for Marsh Tit in Great Brook, but heard none, and Leg-of-Mutton Copse was also fairly quiet. Deciding to go a little off-piste, and through Juniper Hill, I was quickly stopped in my tracks by the sound of calling Crossbills. A picked out a pair, male and female, high up in the conifers, interacting and feeding loudly. Much to my surprise, the male uttered a few notes of song, something I have not heard on the patch before. We enjoyed decent views and left them to it. I was very happy to get Crossbill so early in the year. They turn up rarely, randomly and pretty much anywhere, and I had just 3 records last year. One of those sightings was from Leg-of-Mutton Copse in late November, so perhaps these birds have been about for a bit.

New Barn Point - a new name, and possible new
sky-watching site
Having chanced upon, and subsequently taken in, a cracking view over the east of the patch, we walked through New Barn, hearing my first Marsh Tit of the year. Reaching Tilsey Farm a flyover Yellowhammer was a nice sight, particularly given the lack of this species presence on the Ridge this winter. A large group of about 30 Meadow Pipits were in the scrubby main meadow at Tilsey, which really does look good for Owls. Heading back through Selhurst Common another Marsh Tit was heard in a mixed Tit flock, as was a Firecrest, which showed briefly. The latter species isn't too numerous in the winter.

So, Crossbill joins Woodcock and Little Egret on the extremely-pleased-to-have-already-got list for 2017. 66 is a decent start, and I still have Little Grebe, Greylag Goose, Lesser Redpoll, Sparrowhawk and a few other fairly common species to see. A return of the Red-crested Pochard would be nice, and with a couple of very cold mornings forecast for this week Mill Pond will be worth checking