Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Sunday, 24 September 2017

18th-25th September

We're in the depths of September. For the birding community, the narratives are firmly about rarities, weather fronts and migration. Winds from the east, and Siberian jewels are on the menu. Gales from the west, and lost Americans are there to be found. Back-of-camera shots with expletives and exclamation marks fill up the timeline more than ever, and it's very easy to grab your board and jump on the wave of anticipation.

No decent bird pictures this week, so atmospheric
landscapes will have to do!
During these times, I've been guilty of forgetting I'm an inland birder (and a dry inland one at that), and that my chances of finding something rare really are quite slim. Every morning bushes are stalked, skies squinted into, in the anticipation that some lost waif is waiting to be found. The sad realty is that, in leafy Surrey, it's as much luck as judgement.

For the past few weeks I've hit the patch daily, sometimes twice, and while holding down a pretty busy full-time job, as well as other commitments, it can sometimes feel ever so slightly like a strain. The first problem one encounters when trying to unearth something special is the geographic location of Surrey - it's landlocked. This obviously is the main restrictive factor. However, I believe Surrey suffers from an additional geographical problem, particularly in the autumn.

When species are moving south, it's going to take a lot for rarity to end up in Surrey. Regardless of where they've come from, the north, east or west coast is always likely to be the first destination. Surrey is not going to be a place an east or west originating bird is likely to pitch up, and surely not many grounded birds, waiting for blocking winds to pass, will wait here. It's interesting to note that most (possibly all?) autumn Red-breasted Flycatcher records in Surrey have come in November - fairly late in the season - and perhaps because it takes longer for lost passerines to penetrate inland.

I've mentioned before to birding friends that I actually feel like spring and early summer is a better time to find something interesting in Surrey. Given it's southerly location within the UK, it's not as much of an unlikeliness for overshooting birds to find themselves here. Indeed, if they're pushed or carried just a little inland from the south coast, Surrey is a reasonable destination. I guess I'm basing a lot of this on my own experience on patch - autumns are generally less interesting than spring.
Junction Field, not long after dawn, 21/9/2017

Going on my hours put in so far, September hasn't provided too much. August was fantastic, and September always had big boots to fill in that sense, but I'm a little disappointed with just 1 year tick so far this month. Thankfully though, if finding unusual birds is what gets me going most, then it's closely followed by (or maybe even on a par with) watching migration in action. In this respect September has certainly delivered.

After the Meadow Pipit madness last weekend, numbers dropped off, though small groups have still been flying through each day. The past week was really all about the colossal hirundine migration in the south-east - at Sandwich Bay 110,000 (!) House Martins and 47,000 Swallows flew through on the 20th - and the following day Surrey had its share. Over 10,000 of both species were recorded at Canons Farm, and I managed 829 Swallows and 355 House Martins in an hour or so before work.

Also on the 20th, the first Yellowhammer of the season flew over New Barn, and some commoner species began to increase. Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, certainly, have arrived in recently, and it won't be long until the first Redwing flies over. During the back half of the week, Goldcrests numbers rose, along with those of Robins and, overhead, Woodpigeons and Stock Doves.

On the Ridge, the first few Reed Buntings are back on the crops, somewhat early, and I've already enjoyed sifting through them for something special. At Mill Pond and Winkworth there seemed to be an increase in Mallards, many of them very nervous - maybe these have come from Russia for the winter.

Thankfully, these regular species and their movements, in sync with the shifting of the seasons, will always give me joy and encouragement when out on the patch. Noticing these subtle changes help fuel the hope that something special is yet to come, and keep me going when there again is no Wryneck in that scrubby meadow, still no Red-backed Shrike on that blackthorn, and no Yellow-browed Warbler to be found in that sycamore.