Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 16 October 2017

10th-16th October

Surrey is rarely in the national birding limelight but the recent irruption of Hawfinches into the UK has, perhaps unsurprisingly, thrust the most heavily wooded county in Britain onto centre-stage. Sensationally, 65 individuals from 9 different sites were recorded in the vice-county yesterday, including 23 over Capel and 15 over St Catherine’s Hill.

Hawfinch, taken in Białowieża, Poland, earlier this year
These types of irruptions are now doubt in some measure cyclical, but I can’t personally recall one in my time birding. Either the species had an unusually good breeding season, or there’s been a problem with their autumn/winter food supply – likely the latter, and these are probably birds from the east (i.e Poland, where they were one of the most numerous passerines when I visited in April), being pushed west as they move around seeking food.

Either way, to end up slightly disappointed at ‘only’ having 3 yesterday (all over New Barn, my new favourite vis-mig site) is demonstrative of the crazy numbers occurring that morning (40 over Hampstead Heath!), as well as the wondrous experience I’d enjoyed with the species the day before.

Arriving at Winkworth at first light on Saturday, there’d been little of note, until I heard two Hawfinches fly over the footpath that runs adjacent to Rowe’s Flashe. That was enough to make the day, so when I headed to Badger’s Bowl I wasn’t even contemplating any more. However, quickly another bird flew over, offering its typical flight-call (like a high-pitch sneeze), and then another, this time low before dropping into the trees in the upper arboretum.

Then, best of all, a flock of 6 irrupted out of one of the acers, followed shortly after by another. During the next 20 minutes or so at least 4 Hawfinches flew over in various directions. It was hard to know which birds were different, but there were definitely at least 13 individuals in the arboretum. Realistically, there were many more, and I assume these were on the move (possibly roosting in the acer overnight), and stocking up on the various berries and seeds around Winkworth. I had 2 more over New Barn later on.

Tenebrosus type Pheasant at New Barn, 15/10. A small
population of these variations resides here.
Both weekend mornings offered some tidy vis-mig, including increased Thrush numbers, notable alba and Grey Wagtails south as well as likely the last House Martins of the year. Most prominent though were finches – it’s entering peak time, and both Chaffinches and Goldfinches were passing over on both mornings in numbers. This morning, on Allden’s Hill, I enjoyed my first Bramblings of both the autumn and the year, as two individuals buzzed south. As well as being the earliest ever record here, they also brought my year list to 118, breaking the previous record of 117 in the process! Happy days.

The patch offers a dynamic habitat for Finches. There are plenty of unmanaged hedgerows and copses – perfect for Bullfinches, which are notably common, and I feel like I see more here than anywhere else in the county. The farmland element is, albeit patchy, prominent – scrubby meadows, numerous sacrificial crops and even some gorse mean Goldfinch and Linnets are probably the 2nd and 3rd commonest species respectively. Add in plenty of damp wood for winter Siskins and Redpolls, and even tracts of coniferous woodland for Crossbills, then you have a very decent mosaic. 

Brambling and Hawfinch are annually recorded (the former even locally common in some years) and, thus, 10 finch species are regular here in a year, with 11 having been seen in total in 2017 (including Common Rosefinch!). Indeed, in a good winter, you can stand on the Ridge and clock up 8 finch species easily. I wonder if, in 20 years’ time, Serin will have moved in?