Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Sunday, 26 February 2017

26th February

I have 3 'easy' winter targets left for my year list challenge of 120- Brambling, Pochard and Kingfisher. The former is seemingly non-existent this winter, the latter always pretty scarce and the duck is normally relatively straightforward from late February to late March. I managed none this weekend, in what was a largely quiet couple of days. Whilst not especially cold, the weather was fairly miserable, and a rare day off on Saturday was blighted by a rather brisk wind, heavy cloud and patches of drizzle.
The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker today

Despite the forecast, I set out for first light on Saturday, but returned home several hours later with a pretty average list of birds, dotted with a couple of stand-outs and a couple of oddities. The weirdness began at Rowe's Flashe, where a sole Bar-headed Goose was sat on the water, along with the regular species. Evidently it wasn't resting after a long slog over the Himalayas, and more likely a roving escapee. It's coming up to optimum Pochard time here, but 8 Tufted Ducks were the best I could manage. The grey conditions meant birdsong was at a premium, so it was back to the car and onward.

It didn't take long to locate the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker pair, with the male showing moderately well despite the weather. However, at least 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker was also in the area, and it will be interesting to see if they can hold fort for the next few weeks. A vocal Green Woodpecker completed the resident British Woodpecker list in the space of a few minutes. A circuit of the patch, followed by a sprint up the Ridge didn't produce much, although a 1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull among a flock of 60+ Herring Gulls flying north-east was a third record of 2017.

With none of my targets seen at their likely sites, I decided I may as well fill the rest of my time exploring the couple of small footpaths I have visited just once or twice, way out in the east of my patch. As anticipated, they delivered nothing mind-blowing, although one private pond held a pair of Black Swans, and 20+ Mandarin, 2 Teal and a couple of Marsh Tits firing their lasers where at another water body nearby (which was more akin to a swamp).
One of the Black Swans from Saturday

On Sunday morning I met up with Matt, for an hour or so before work. In slightly better conditions one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers showed well, and we enjoyed prolonged views of the male drumming, with Matt managing some footage. It flew off to the east, but was clearly back in it's usual haunt later in the morning, as Tice's Meadow birder Rich Seargent managed to eventually connect with the bird.

During the week, a thoroughly interesting exchange with Peter Osborn almost added a new bird to the Thorncombe Street area historical list. Peter does the BBS square survey in the middle of my patch, and we discussed the more standout records throughout the data. Goosander was the species that jumped out (a bird I have long anticipated on one of the ponds), but with the date being the 11th June 2003, near some woodland, it seems extremely unlikely. So, I have chosen to leave it off the list. Other interesting stuff includes a Tree Pipit at Wintershall on 24th April 2004, which becomes the first site record (replacing my flyover last September) and the sad decline of Skylarks, which were recorded regally until 2007.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

18th February

For the last few springs, I've tried largely in vain to find Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers on my patch. Indeed, the previous 2 years yielded just 3 records for me - 2 winter birds (1/1/2015 and 24/12/2016) and a very late drumming individual on 3/5/2016. It's worth noting that Matt Phelps had one at Winkworth last April that wasn't relocated. However, with the large tracts of incredibly suitable habitat that exist on my patch, I have been both surprised and very disheartened to always draw blanks, especially given the groundwork I put in for this particular species. That was, until this morning.
The best picture I got this morning

When I say "tried in vain", emphasis is on the tried. From the start of February to mid-April, for the last few years, I have extensively walked through the best looking areas, using my '1 drumming, 1 call' play-back technique. I have got nowhere, left wondering where these fleeting winter individuals come from. Anyway, I was at it again this morning, squeezing in a session before work. Having failed at previous places, I arrived at one site and played the drumming call on my speaker. Almost straight away, a bird responded, and it sounded good for Lesser Spotted. It wasn't long before I heard that distinctive call, and after a nervy few minutes a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew in, and landed extremely close to me. I was delighted - this species is suffering a horrendous decline, and they are seemingly very thin on the ground in Surrey these days (though I believe they are there to be found, there just aren't enough people looking). I enjoyed fantastic views (best for 15+ years!), and then the bird flew off.

The drumming picked up again further away, but as I began to try and relocate the individual another bird flew across my line of vision, and landed in a separate tree. I got it in the bins, and with the drumming still going on it was clear I had a pair! I was pretty excited, and figured that given everyone wants a photo these days, reached for the camera. After a lengthy spell of cat and mouse in the tree tops, I managed a couple of woeful shots. I enjoyed the moment - I had never seen more than one Lesser Spotted Woodpecker before, and I eventually tracked down the drumming, which resulted in the discovery of some very good looking holes.
No photography prizes here

So, potentially, a pair of prospective breeders, right here on my patch. I am going to monitor the situation as much as I can over the coming weeks. Interestingly, I rarely note Great Spotted Woodpeckers here, but did have an individual come down and investigate my call-playing last week. Should they stick around, they will be additions to the fine list of rare breeding birds in my recording area. Furthermore, it brings me to 84 for the patch year list, a figure normally reached until early April!

Elsewhere today, a Little Egret coming into summer plumage was present at Bramley Park Lake early on, though it departed north. Yesterday a staggering 94 Greylag Geese were on the site, including a flock of 79 at Gatestreet Farm. Birdsong is getting louder by the day - spring is coming.

Monday, 13 February 2017

13th February

Having been away, and ill before that, today was my first opportunity to enjoy some quality patch time in a couple of weeks, and it proved to be a very productive and enjoyable session. With the forecast for clear skies and sunshine I figured a sky-watch would be my best bet, as I hoped to get Brambling or Peregrine on my year list, and I found myself on Allden's Hill for no less than 4 hours from 08:15.

The Curlew that flew N at 08:33 (2nd site record)
With Mill Pond eerily quiet, I positioned myself in my usual spot and immediately noted the decent numbers of Common Gulls moving slowly south, with some loitering and dropping into the fields. At 08:33 what initially looked like a big, dark gull came powering north at height, in the opposite direction to all the others. The quick flight action had me going, and any thoughts that this was Cormorant were quickly erased when I got my bins on the bird, which was clearly a large wader. Despite the distance the light was good, and it soon became clear I was looking at a Curlew! I managed a couple of pictures as it continued NNW fairly quickly, and was left in amazement as it disappeared out of sight. This is a fine sighting here (any wader is), and it's only the 2nd Curlew record for the site, after Kevin Guest and I had one calling over the same valley, heading north on 6th April 2015.

One of the 3 Sparrowhawks today
Presumably a bird heading to northern breeding grounds, the gorgeous start to the day had me feeling like it was spring, and I was pumped up for what else would appear. For the next 3 hours, it was in fact little. Gull numbers continued to be higher than normal (20+ Herring Gulls notable), and there was a few Finches moving about, including pleasing numbers of Greenfinches, 20+ Siskins and 2 Lesser Redpolls. There was to be no Brambling, with numbers massively down this winter following last seasons bumper figures. However, another year tick flew over at 11:45, this time a calling Skylark heading SE. Rare here, only recorded on passage with the odd singing bird in the south-east of the patch, this is my earliest record of this species here, and the first before March.

A small purple patch then occurred. Raptor numbers had been OK without being as spectacular as they can be, though 3 Sparrowhawks (including a displaying male) were welcome. Anyway, my hoped for Peregrine appeared distantly over the Ridge at about 12:09, being mobbed by a Carrion Crow. This species is normally only seen from February to April. At 12:15 another surprise - this time a calling Chiffchaff in the trees on top of Allden's Hill, towards Winkworth. This species does winter here, but in tiny numbers. A great session then, with 4 year ticks, taking me to 83 for 2017. A quick whiz through the rest of the area yielded little, bar a nice 3 species mixed flock of Gulls at Bonhurst.