Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

19th-27th December

The always-busy Christmas period has left little time for the patch during the past week or so, as 2017 winds down to an end. Over the weekend of the 23rd/24th I managed a couple of visits and whilst there was nothing too startling to report, the continued presence of the Hawfinch flock around the New Barn area was pleasing.

Brent Geese, Felpham, 25/12/2017
The past few days have been spent at my parents in Felpham, West Sussex, which allowed for some decent birding. Seawatching from their house was productive, particularly on Christmas Day. I also undertook my yearly visit to the Bewick's Swan herd in the Arun Valley, and it seems, tragically, time could be running out for them.

25th-27th December

I spent Christmas with my family down in West Sussex, where my parents happen to have a house that has a decent vista over the sea, between Felpham and Middleton-on-Sea. As a result, despite the coastline being tucked in (in comparison to nearby Selsey Bill), some very respectable seawatching can be done, from either the balcony or even the living room!

I was up for dawn each morning, but only Christmas Day really delivered, when a strong south-westerly seemed to push plenty of bits into the relative shelter of this stretch of coastline. There were also a few things moving, and I recorded 1 each of Velvet Scoter, Great Northern Diver (both offshore) and Guillemot (west). At least 40 Gannets moved past, along with 6 Common Scoters, 2 Red-throated Divers and 20+ Brent Geese. 2 Slavonian Grebes drifted east, and a couple of juvenile Shags close in made for an excellent day.

The following morning, after a stormy night, was bright and calm, and so it wasn't too surprising that bird numbers were down. Still, 27 Curlews flew east, and a Kittiwake, 19 Red-breasted Mergansers, 2 Red-throated Divers and 10 Brent Geese were some of the better birds/counts going west. This morning brought snow and a northerly wind, and thus next to no birds - sadly, an oiled Razorbill was close in.

2 Bewick's Swans, Arun Valley, 26/12/2017
Despite being tucked in unfavourably there can be no doubt that seawatching has potential here - there is, naturally, one obvious species that would be both epic and realistic (just) to get on the 'lounge list' - Pomarine Skua. Surely, a watch here on a Pom day in early May would deliver the goods.

With the sun out my girlfriend and I decided to do a mini-tour of this part of Sussex, starting with a quick drive to Bognor Regis for a recent Snow Bunting, which wasn't around (and seems to have gone). It was then up to the Arun Valley, and the village of Burpham, for an annual catch up with the wintering herd of Bewick's Swans.

When I first saw this flock, as a kid in 2001, I counted no less than 48. On Boxing Day, I saw just 5. The most worrying element is that they were all adults - clearly no young made it this year. This species is in decline (see BB, Rees and Beekman), with the reasons not totally clear. Persecution on migration routes is thought to be a big problem, though weather and habitat changes are also likely factors, and certainly seem a good reason for the lack of youngsters this year.

A look in the 1979 published Birds of Sussex makes for even more depressing reading, with the herd totalling 92 in 1976. Hopefully this isolated wintering population can pull it back - it'd be a terrible shame to lose them here, not least becasue they're one of my favourite species of bird. Also present were the usual dabbling ducks, a single Raven and a couple of Chiffchaffs.

We ended the day with some gulling in a very windy Hillfield Road car park in Selsey, though not much was coming to bread, with a single Mediterranean Gull and 4 Great Black-backs the best I could manage.

Allden's Hill, 27/12/2017
19th-24th December

The week before Christmas was a write off, with sunrise now not until 8ish, but over the weekend I managed to spend a bit of time both on the Ridge and at New Barn. On the 23rd, I headed up to the former not long after dawn, armed with two bags of sunflower and nyger seeds. I put it down on the southern game-cover crop, and have little doubt it's been warmly received during the past few days by the finch/bunting flock (though I've yet to go back and check).

Having completed the feed, I counted what was about - at least 50 Linnets, 5+ Reed Buntings (though probably many more deep in cover), 12 Chaffinches, 19 Goldfinches and an impressive 30+ Lesser Redpolls. As mentioned in my last post, this species is having a bumper winter, and I'm dead keen to find a Mealy (or Arctic!) with them.

Overhead a few Herring and Common Gulls drifted south, along with an unseasonal Meadow Pipit. Plenty of raptors were up, including a notable count of 15 Buzzards, and at least 5 Red KitesRavens are obvious at this time of year, and 2 were cronking over the Ridge at various times.

I also had two Hawfinches fly over, and their continued presence on patch was confirmed by birds still present at New Barn - I had 3 fly east, and heard at least 1 other. On the 24th, David K had 5 in the same spot, and also managed an impressive 250+ Siskins near Phillimore - remarkably, in a poor winter for the species, a site record!