Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A new bird for Thorncombe Street

2017 has so far seen 4 new species added to the historic bird list for Thorncombe Street, and this week a 5th joined, in unusual circumstances. Most birders love a list, and I've spent much time scouring through old books and reports, making sure I haven't missed any records of birds in my recording area. My research has been pretty thorough, but there are several species which have had a cloud of uncertainty over their heads.
Just like 1944 - a Great Grey Shrike on wires

For example, old, Victorian records of some birds (Night-heron, Ferruginous Duck etc) are simply described as being shot at 'Bramley', which could or could not be in my area. There are a few ponds in the village north of my patch boundary, and so these birds simply can't be added. 

As time and record-keeping moved forward, locations got more specific, but there are a batch of records from the mid 1940's from 'Bramley' that are of two species that seem very suited to my area, or at least what my area would have been like back then. The species in question are Grasshopper Warbler and Red-backed Shrike, and having worked out their references in Jeff Wheatley's Birds of Surrey, it seemed I needed to get my hands on the old South Eastern Bird Reports, which ran before the Surrey Bird Club came into existence.

Another record has long intrigued. A Great Grey Shrike was reported from Palmer's Green, in 1944. Wheatley could never find anywhere in Surrey that bore that name, and concluded that the record probably referred to Palmer's Cross/Goose Green, which are two areas next to each other on my patch. The observer was behind the Bramley records at the time, and the name confusion was likely just a typo or mistake. However, the lack of 100% certainty meant it just couldn't be confirmed.

I've long wanted to read through these South Eastern Bird Reports, and this week, with the great help of Haslemere Musuem, I finally did. Sadly, I couldn't get any further with Red-backed Shrike or Grasshopper Warbler. The former came close though, with the note from the 1944 report stating 'this species was prevalent in the Bramley area'. It's almost certain they were around, but as there's no 100% confirmation, the species remains off the list.

Collared versus Turtle, 1944
Great Grey Shrike, though, was a different story. The 1944 South Eastern Bird report had the erroneous 'Palmer's Green' as the location for the record, which came in October. However, I managed to get my hands on a dusty pamphlet from 1953, The Birds, Butterflies and Flowers of the Godalming Area, which I had no idea existed, and there I found the jackpot. 

Under the Great Grey Shrike section, the words I'd been hoping to find were there - "One on wires at Palmer's Cross in October 1944". Finally, confirmation that this bird was indeed within my recording area. The Shrike brings the historic tally up to 148, and becomes another uber-blocker for me.

These old documents make fascinating reading, and are a great way to appreciate/scowl at the changes the countryside has gone through in less than 80 years. Just take a look at the picture to the right, and note the difference in Turtle and Collared Dove records compared to nowadays...