Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 8 January 2018

1st-8th January

For the patch-watcher, a new year means a new list, and as a result the winter doldrums are lifted for a short period as everything is reset. 2017 was the year of the record list, and in 2018 my foot will very much be off the gas in this department. Still, it’s nice to acquire a varied mix of species each year, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t extremely satisfied at having already seen Hawfinch, Little Egret, Firecrest, Woodcock, Yellowhammer and Brambling, as well as a probable Mealy Redpoll.

Red Kite, Slades Farm, 8/1/2018. Rich rufous plumage &
 jet-black streaking help identify this as an adult. Note
also the weird partial melanism on the breast.
The 1st saw the typical crossing-off of the regular species, of which few were left unseen by the close of play. Woodcock is always a very hard bird to see here, so I was delighted when I spooked one near the footpath on Juniper Hill. I’d managed Hawfinch at New Barn not long before that, and a Little Egret on Mill Pond and Firecrest at Bramley Park Lake later on made for a pleasing session. I tallied a high number of Bullfinches too – 14 throughout.

I couldn’t get out again until the weekend just gone, and Saturday was pretty quiet. Saying that, a Yellowhammer over New Barn was unexpected, and a few more Hawfinches were around (2 at New Barn, 2 at Nore Brook and 1 at Palmer’s Cross). Yet another Little Egret (or possibly the same individual) was present at Mill Pond at dusk.

The latter site, in terms of birds, is unrecognisable compared to its normal mid-winter state. January is traditionally peak wildfowl time (116 Teal in 2016 for example), but this winter it’s been like a ghost town. Teal numbers are drastically down (11 on Sunday, none on Saturday), there are a couple of Mandarin, a handful of Mallards and Gadwalls…and that’s it. Shoveler has been a fixed January 1st year tick since I started watching here, but I’ve seen none since mid-December.

The situation seems to be suffering from a bit of a double-edged sword. Firstly, wildfowl numbers across the board have been down this winter, demonstrated by recent visits to Pagham and Sheppey. Consequently, Thorncombe Park aren’t shooting Mill Pond, and thus no food has been put down for them. Until this weekend, gull numbers were down too, but this seems to have changed and indeed over 110 Common Gulls were present throughout the site on Sunday.
Probable Mealy Redoll (left), Ridge, 8/1/2018. The size
& paleness compared to the Lesser (right) is striking.

Numbers definitely aren’t down among the finch and bunting flock on the Ridge, which in fact seems to have increased, perhaps thanks in small part to my generous dumpings of nyger and sunflower seeds. On Sunday, a rare north-easterly and slight drop in temperature had me ambitiously watching the sky on the Ridge at dawn. Not much of note moving, bar a few Stock Doves, Woodpigeons and Starlings heading south.

Attention soon turned to the crops, where 50+ Linnets, 20+ Goldfinches, 10+ Chaffinches and 6+ Reed Buntings were feeding. I was delighted to pick up a Brambling, a species that’s been scarce on the deck this winter, and ended up totalling 3 birds. On the east side of the crops, on the edge of Furze Field, I found the wintering Lesser Redpoll flock.

Among the 40+ strong group, which have been on the Ridge for a couple of months now, I picked out a strikingly large, pale and white-rumped individual. The flock was flighty, and the light poor, so I didn’t get enough on it to be sure but it certainly looked an excellent candidate for Mealy Redpoll. I’ve had a couple of possible Mealy’s before, not least one on 16th December, which was likely the same individual. Given the variable nature of Lessers (and the fact Mealy is a questionable species), I’m not sure I could safely ID one in the field - someone with a super-lens, please feel free to check it out!
Fieldfare, Bonhurst Farm, 8/1/2017. Currently the only site
holding this species this winter.

I must take the time to mention Thorncombe Street’s appearance in the shortlist for the 2017 Randon’s Ramblings. These annual, online awards are run by Surrey birder Neil Randon (who I’ve yet to meet), and I was both surprised and delighted to see Thorncombe Street nominated for the ‘2017 Surrey Patch of the Year’ award. The locations with whom my little upstart of a patch was rubbing shoulders with made particularly enjoyable reading – Barnes WWT, Beddington, Frensham Ponds, Staines reservoir, Tice’s Meadow and Walton reservoirs. Very much a case of Cinderella at the ball, or Burnley in the top-7, depending which analogy you prefer!

The wider Surrey scene, and in particular the definition of its recording boundaries, has been subject to hefty Twitter debate these past few days. There are certainly cases that can be put forward for both opinions, and for the Surrey lister it’s definitely an area that’s lost some structure in recent years. I could go on, but it’s probably a post for another day.