Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 2 July 2018

Purple Haze

Late June isn’t exactly a time of year for the patch to be throwing out many surprises, but the past 10 days have really delivered with, incredibly, a couple of site firsts. The headline occurred over the weekend just gone, when 2 Purple Emperor butterflies were seen in the southern section of the area. During the week before the first nod to Autumn occurred when an Oystercatcher was sound-recorded flying over Allden’s Hill – another patch first. With a Ring-necked Parakeet (very rare here) the best among the rest of the avian highlights, it’s been a rewarding few days.

Spotted Flycatcher, Selhurst Common, 30/6/2018.
I’ve been pretty negligent with butterflies this year, but with this hot spell seemingly never ending I decided to catch up with the local high summer species over the weekend, with Purple Hairstreaks particularly abundant this year. It’s long been considered by myself and others that Purple Emperors must persist in the large tracts of suitable wooded habitat in the south of the recording area, though despite previous searches I’d not found one.

This changed on Saturday, when I was stopped in my tracks by a male Purple Emperor on horse poo on the path down from Great Brook to New Barn. Sadly it took off and flew into Scotsland Brook before I could get a photo, but it was a truly memorable moment, and as a result I gave a couple of hours on Sunday scouring the adjacent woods for more. I struck gold again with another male, this time in Leg-of-Mutton Copse. Purple Emperors look like they’ve had a good year nationally (300+at Knepp!), and it seems that a population does occur here, deep in these rarely visited woods.

Purple Hairstreak, Leg-of-Mutton Copse, 1/7/2018.
Another site first, and the 159th bird species now recorded here, was an Oystercatcher, which was recorded as it called rather distantly over Allden’s Hill in the early hours of the 26th. Of the possible waders to be recorded here I guess Oyc is fairly high up, given their abundance and preference to move at night. Presumably this individual was a failed breeder from further north, and heading back south for the winter (!). I’m hopeful the next month or so will turn up plenty more noc-mig waders, and I’m also planning on camping out a couple of nights so I can try and hear them ‘live’.

A raucous Ring-necked Parakeet at Eastwaters last Saturday morning was a slightly perturbing record given the time of year but nevertheless represents a 2018 first, and only the 7th record in the last 5 years. Other decent bird records include the 4th Red-crested Pochard record of the year, on Mill Pond on the 24th, a year high of 72 Mandarin at the same site the following day (a post/non-breeding flock peaks during mid-June every year here) and the confirmation of further Spotted Flycatcher nest sites, as well as successful Firecrest breeding.

I made a brief excursion to Thursley Common very early on Saturday morning, connecting with a smart (but distant) male Red-backed Shrike that had been present for a few days. I'd never seen a male in the UK before so thought I'd go for it, given how close to home it was. As of yesterday it seems he's moved on...

Red-crested Pochard, Mill Pond, 26/6/2018.
Finally, I must make reference to a report of 2 White Storks in Bramley last Wednesday. The news of 2 at St. Catherine’s School was both a bit weird and vague (I still went for a look after work!), though after getting in contact with the observer there’s a chance the sighting has legs. The birds were seen by a Ben W, and other parents at the school sports day, as they thermalled overhead before flying south over Snowdenham Lane (i.e. the patch!).

Of course, one wonders if Grey Heron can be ruled out here, but Ben assured me he sees White Storks annually in Europe, and is 100% certain of what he saw. For what it’s worth, the locally reintroduced Storks can’t fly, and all 21 were present and correct that day. I’ve asked him to submit it to the Surrey Bird Club, though to be honest I’ll be surprised if it joins the <20 previous county records of this species. Nevertheless, an exciting thought, and certainly one to ignite autumnal motivation…