Godalming area birds

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Sunday 10 March 2024

Finding a rhythm

An overriding feeling from the first 10 days of March has been one of finding my feet and getting back into the flow of local birding. For various reasons, 2024 has been a bit 'off' for me so far – I wasn't all guns blazing before India and, since my return, I've struggled to get back into the groove. A mixed bag of recent weather hasn't helped, either, but with spring knocking on the door I've no doubt I'll find my rhythm soon.

Robin.

Friday 1st

The third wet and windy day in a row saw me pop out late morning, having a quick check of the Loseley fields. There was lots of standing water and a fair gathering of gulls were around the main flood, including two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls in fetching breeding plumage.

Passing Eashing Farm at dusk, I espied eight Red-legged Partridges in Helicopter Field from the car – my highest 1-km count since October and maybe suggestive of some end of season releases …

Saturday 2nd

I had a quick look at Frensham Great Pond on another rainy, miserable morning. A drake Goosander highlighted, with two Crossbills over the west side also of note. Other bits included a singing Firecrest, a Little Egret and 15 Pochard.

Frensham Great Pond.

Sunday 3rd

In stark contrast to the last few days, this morning was bright, still and cold, with patchy mist and a hard frost. I walked Shackleford properly for the first time in nearly a month, noting 40 species, but not finding too many signs that this site is waking up from it's 2023-24 winter slumber …

Shackleford.

Still, the proliferation of singing Skylarks is always a joy here, and I estimated at least 12 males, eight of which were simultaneously singing in the air around me at one stage. Lovely stuff. A male Stonechat was in song, too, and one of five birds in total.

Skylark

Despite the mist limiting overhead visibility, I did note a single flock of 208 Starlings high east – doubtless continental birds on the move and a March phenomenon locally that's always fun to see. A loud Grey Heron high north may have been moving too.

Starlings.

Other bits of note included an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull among Herring Gulls, three Red-legged Partridges, 75 or more Linnets and a courting pair of Dunnocks performing an awkward dance. Fieldfare numbers – high here all winter – were well down, with only 15 or so seen.




Pheasant (with Red-legged Partridge), Linnets and Buzzard.

By now, mid-morning, things had warmed up a touch and the early spring sunshine was beaming down. I figured I'd try for Goshawks, so headed south, stopping off briefly at Allden's Hill, Thorncombe Street, where two male Red-legged Partridges sang from either side of the valley.

Allden's Hill.

From there it was on to Gos country – but the still wind and cold start to the day meant raptor activity was slow in starting up. Eventually there was a bit of action, though, including an adult male Goshawk performing a display flight high up. 

A single Raven and three Sparrowhawks were also up and another eastbound Starling flock – this one about 150 birds strong – was seen. Presumably plenty were on the move today.

Monday 4th

Like yesterday, it was a cold and bright start, with the forecast mist only rolling in towards the end of my pre-work saunter along the Wey at Eashing. Despite the recent rains water levels weren't especially high – and plenty of activity among 40 species of birds (some 21 of them in song) made for a pleasant early spring session.

Of interest were three Reed Buntings at Eashing Marsh (reaffirming my thoughts first established on 15 January of a roost here), two immature Mute Swans on the Wey (likely the same as on 23 February), eight Mandarin, three Red-legged Partridges, 60 Siskins and notable counts of Woodpigeon (400) and Greenfinch (at least five).


Red-legged Partridge and Mute Swans.

'Bigger picture' migration stuff was limited to a sum-plum Black-headed Gull high upriver, calling, and some chattering Redwing subsong among a flock of 40 or more near Greenways.

It was overcast and windy by late afternoon, when a single Red-legged Partridge was singing at Eashing Fields – noteworthy given I only had three records here last year. The Stonechat pair were present, too, and four Red Kites were enjoying the breeze together.

Tuesday 5th

The sun came out mid-afternoon – a welcome change from the dank, dreary day that had preceded it. I took the opportunity to walk Eashing Farm and was rewarded with my first 1-km Lesser Black-backed Gulls of the year, with two adults circling high over towards A3 Fields with Herring Gulls. They were right on cue, too – my first of 2022 were on 1 March, and first of 2023 on 9 March …

Lesser Black-backed Gull.

A jittery flock of roughly 220 Stock Doves in a cut field was very much of note and easily my highest Eashing area count. Gatherings of this species do tend to peak in March. Other bits included 40 or so Redwings, 11 Red-legged Partridges and eight Linnets, but only one singing Skylark.

Red-legged Partridge.

Wednesday 6th

Once again, weather stopped play this morning, with a dense mist lingering until nearly midday. When it cleared, the sun came out – and a short saunter up to Eashing Fields was delightfully seasonal as a Skylark sang overhead, a tractor ploughed Top Field and, for the first time this year, the sun felt warm.

A little later in the afternoon, a Chiffchaff was calling from the garden hedgerow – my first 'proper' spring migrant of the year.

Another pleasant element of early March is the extra birding hours, and I took advantage of them today, teaming up with Abel after work to try and get Goosander on his year list. An amble around Puttenham Common failed to produce said sawbill, alas, but we did score six Shoveler on the house pond, about 12 Mandarin in flooded alder carr on the Lower Common, two Kingfishers and a singing Firecrest.

Thursday 7th

For the third successive morning, the weather was moody, as another healthy dose of mist lingered. I decided to get in the field anyway, heading to Thundry Meadows, where I enjoyed some time with a drumming male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – much more of an aural experience than a visual one given the conditions!

LSWs have proven slippery customers this year, despite presence at a few sites, so this prolonged encounter was cherished. 





Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Other bits included a Chiffchaff calling along the Wey (a further sign of a local arrival of sorts yesterday), a Marsh Tit (Thundry is one of few sites along the Wey still supporting this species in south-west Surrey), 20 or Siskins and a Lesser Redpoll.

Thundry Meadows.

I then headed to Frensham Great Pond, where the pea-souper conditions had barely shifted, with visibility limited. My first singing Chiffchaff of the year was very welcome, but otherwise the highlights came in shades of grey: two drake Gadwall (curiously uncommon here) and a Marsh Tit by the outlet pond.

Also of note was a single Little Egret, four Pochard and the Cetti's Warbler in the eastern reedbed – the first time I've heard it there since 3 October.

Heading back home, I opted to check Enton Lakes before work called. By now, the sun was out and it felt decidedly spring like, with Egyptian Geese chasing each other around and plenty of birds in song. On Johnson's, a drake Pochard, 30 or so Tufted Duck and a Kingfisher were seen.



Egyptian Goose, Coot and Great Crested Grebe.

During a late afternoon run, a Ring-necked Parakeet at Peper Harow and immature Mute Swan along the Wey at Milton Pool (presumably one of the birds from 4th) were of note.

Friday 8th

I've neglected Thursley Common a bit this winter, with only five visits since the end of November. So it was nice to be back today and give the site a proper walk, with 47 species a decent tally during two and a half hours. For the first time in a few days, it was birdable first thing, with a light frost and hazy sunshine burning through …

Thursley Common.

Pudmore was fairly quiet, though two vocal Water Rails included one that ran right in front of me over the boardwalk! Forked and Hammer Ponds were similarly quiet, save a Great Crested Grebe back on the former, but I was in for quite a surprise when a Hawfinch bounded east, calling as it went. This is a real goodie locally north of the Weald and quite the Thursley mega (maybe three or four records since the Millenium).

The rare finch action didn't end there, when I picked out a Mealy Redpoll amid a typically flighty flock of around 35 Lessers at Francis Copse. I find it's usually even harder to do these in March, when many Lesser Redpolls are especially worn and pale (as some were today). What a winter it's been for Mealies, though, with this my fourth record and a total of seven in south-west Surrey … 

Mealy Redpoll.

Among the other standout birds were two Crossbills over, a Firecrest calling near Silkmill Pond (I didn't record any at Thursley last year!), two Chiffchaffs (including one briefly in song) and five Woodlarks.


Lesser Redpolls.

On the way home I stuck my head in at Weyburn Meadows, where a female Stonechat was of note – likely a passage bird.

It was such a gorgeous early spring day that I couldn't resist sneaking up to Eashing Fields late morning. By now the easterly breeze was quite strong and it was no surprise that a trickle of northbound gulls could be detected, including a smart adult Lesser Black-backed. A couple of small Redwing flocks going the same way was less expected given the time of day … Four Skylarks included, pleasingly, two singing males. 


Lesser Black-backed Gull and Skylark.

Saturday 9th

It was brighter than forecast early on, but during the morning cloud rolled in from the east and, by the time I'd finished my birding, light rain was falling, with the chilly breeze contributing to a relatively wintry feeling. That said, I had a fun session on the Lammas Lands that produced a mighty 56 species – a best-ever total for me at this site.

Pick of the bunch was a Little Grebe on the pool on Overgone Meadow – a Lammas Lands tick, no less! This is a rare beast along the Wey and, per eBird at least, the last site record was by Sam in 2010. Now is peak time for grebe movement but it still came as quite the surprise, and a nice way to hit 102 for the Lammas Lands.


Little Grebe.

Other bits from Overgone included a male Peregrine loitering overhead, two Coot on the pool with the grebe (veritable scenes for here!), a Kingfisher by the Borough Road bridge, a male Stonechat and flyover Greylag Geese (four) and Mandarin (one drake).






Peregrine, Moorhen and Coot.

Catteshall Meadow was quieter, producing only 10 Common Snipe and a single Jack Snipe, plus a flock of six Lesser Black-backed Gulls upriver, a Lesser Redpoll and about six Reed Buntings (two were on Overgone).

I walked on to Unstead Water Meadows, by which point there was full cloud cover. As is often the case along this stretch of the Wey, there wasn't loads doing, though a Cetti's Warbler briefly burst into song along the Bunkers Hill Farm track, another Lesser Black-backed Gull flew upriver and a couple of Lesser Redpolls were about. Three Coots were still on the now diminished floods, too.

Finishing up along the river, I popped over to Snowdenham Mill Pond, as light rain began to fall. I was pleased to see the Mute Swan pair back after an odd absence of a couple of months – hopefully they nest again this year. A Shoveler pair, two Mandarin and six Tufted Duck were present as well.


Mallard and Shoveler.

With a breezy easterly blowing and precipitation, I figured it'd be rude not to quickly check Tuesley before heading home. Decent numbers of gulls had gathered in the conditions – mostly Black-headed, but a few Common Gulls too. 

Among the latter was a strikingly pale-headed bird. Upon closer approach, a light neck shawl, bug-eyed appearance, long wings and pink bill base got me quite excited and pondering heinei (Russian Common Gull, a rare or scarce eastern form that is very hard to prove in Britain). However, it was a bit of a let-down when the bird flew, with no all-important dark trailing edge to the underwing …


Common Gull.

Sunday 10th

A grey, damp and fairly murky morning, but without the forecast rain. I had a bit of a 1-km session, with a Brambling over Eashing Farm coming as quite a surprise given how poor a winter it's been for this species. I've only had two records this year, both in the Eashing area, perhaps demonstrating how good the inaccessible crops and arable fields at Eashing Farm might be …

After a lack of winter thrushes recently I've noticed a few more in recent days and, at Eashing Fields, a lone Fieldfare was in Top Field, along with 40 or so Redwings.

Late morning, on my way to visit my parents in Sussex, a 20-minute roadside pitstop at Amberley Wild Brooks produced 46 species. Hundreds of wildfowl were present, plus two Black-tailed Godwits and a Redshank, but the highlight was a ringtail Hen Harrier than quartered over the floods briefly.

Amberley Wild Brooks.

Thursday 29 February 2024

Second-rate second month

It's safe to say my post-India return to patch has been mediocre, as a typically uninspiring February has drawn to a close. During the last week or so, for the most part, the weather has been pretty crap, with lots of rain and wind. March is here, though, and is one of the best months for local birding, even if it can often take a while to get going.

Reed Bunting.

Wednesday 21st

No birding.

Thursday 22nd

During an innocuous glance out the kitchen window at lunchtime I noticed an impressive flock of Siskins swirling around the alder beside the Wey. Stepping outside for a better look, I estimated 200 birds – my biggest local count of the winter.

Friday 23rd

This morning was bright and fresh, after a miserable couple of days, and I was back in the field locally with a casual amble along the Wey at Eashing before work. Water levels were very high and floods at Sandy Bends yielded higher than usual numbers of Canada Geese, plus two bonus Mute Swans – my first 1-km record of the year of this Eashing area scarcity.


Mute Swan and the Wey at Eashing.

Three Mandarin, a singing Skylark (A3 Fields) and a Red-legged Partridge were also noted.

I'm a bit behind with Goshawk fieldwork this year so I was pleased to have an opportunity to get out later in the morning. I was rewarded with a fairly muted performance by a big juvenile female and a smaller juvenile male, the latter of which displaying briefly.



Goshawks.

During a late afternoon walk around Eashing Fields, a flock of 22 Lapwings north-east came as quite a surprise. Seemingly following the Wey, I pondered how rare this species has become locally – and how unusual it was these days to see a group going over not linked to cold weather. Maybe they were water level related, but it felt like to me like more significant movement and one of the first proper patch nods to spring …

Saturday 24th

A sharp frost did little to restrain tentative signs of spring on the partially flooded Lammas Lands this morning, where Reed Bunting numbers had again increased and included three males in song. Lovely. 

Reed Bunting.

Stonechat pair on Catteshall Meadow featured a display-flighting male, too, while four Lesser Black-backed Gulls passed high north-west – always one of the first signs of spring passage locally, I feel.

Other bits included two Jack Snipe among a decent count of 35 or more Common Snipe, plus singles of Greylag Goose and Coot on Overgone Meadow (both relative Lammas Lands goodies). Some 50 species in all seemed a good total.

Common Snipe.

I walked onto Unstead Water Meadows, where the floods were extensive. Long-time readers of this blog will know this site often flatters to deceive in such conditions – and it was the case today, too, even if two Coots were very notable. 

A Cetti's Warbler sang from the Tannachie reedbed, c 100 Siskins roved along riverside alders, a Stock Dove pair inspected a nest hole and a single Little Egret dropped in.

Unstead Water Meadows.

Having finished up along the river, I checked a couple of spots at nearby Thorncombe Street. Snowdenham Mill Pond was quiet, with two Tufted Duck pairs present, and one of the regular Little Owl pair was in an oak at Bonhurst Farm.

Little Owl.

Sunday 25th

A murky, misty day called for a lazy start, and it wasn't until mid-morning that I headed just across the Sussex border to Black Down with Dave and Sam. Here, the wintering Great Grey Shrike was our quarry – a species that's having yet another awful winter in Britain and is becoming an increasingly rare sight on Surrey heaths.

Despite poor visibility and gloomy weather, we eventually got decent views of the bird along the Sussex Border Path. A few Crossbills and singing Woodlarks helped pass the time waiting for the shrike, too.


Great Grey Shrike.

Monday 26th

No birding.

Tuesday 27th

Light mist was in the air this morning which was cold and fairly bright. I visited Frensham Great Pond in the pre-work slot, which is pleasingly longer since my return from India, such is the rapid increase of daylight at this time of year.

Frensham Great Pond.

Pochard numbers were down compared to the start of the month, with 14 counted, though Tufted Duck were up – around 50 in total. A Crossbill flew over the south side, too, even bursting into some brief song as it went.

Sam has been keen to see Jack Snipe via thermal imager so, after work, we met at the Lammas Lands. It was cold and fairly grey and, after a little effort, we were able to locate one bird, enjoying brief views before leaving it be. Another was nearby, and nearly 30 Common Snipe were present. 


Jack Snipe.

Pretty much bang on sunset, we were treated to a performance from a Barn Owl. This bird has been seen here on and off since January by a few members of our Godalming bird group and Sam had scored on Friday. We soaked in views as it quartered the meadow, before eventually drifting over towards Overgone. Quality stuff!









Barn Owl.

Such a showing from a Barn Owl is a truly rare thing locally and the fact it's been performing semi-regularly makes it all the more surprising. I suspect it's been displaced from more favoured hunting grounds due to the constantly high water levels ... We congratulated ourselves on such a 'peak' winter Lammas Lands session – all fitted in nicely after work!

Wednesday 28th

In recent months the weather forecasts have often been inaccurate and today was no exception – it was supposed to be thick fog and poor visibility, but instead it was lightly clouded and mild. A last-minute pre-work birding plan was thus hatched, with Puttenham Common the locale pulled out the lesser visited site hat. 

I spent an hour and a half working the wooded part of the common and Cutt Mill Ponds and, while pleasant to be out, it was quiet – and I couldn't ignore the large-scale clearance of various areas of nice birch woodland. Hopefully the planned heathland restoration it's being done for will be worth it …

Woodland clearance at Puttenham Common.

Avian highlights included three Crossbills (including, like yesterday, a singing male), one Marsh Tit, 120 or so Siskins, an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull high north and a Woodlark singing towards Hilbury.  

The ponds held a few bits, including three redhead Goosander, two drake Gadwall, eight Shoveler and nine Mandarin.

Gadwall and Tufted Duck.

Late afternoon, my first 1-km Greylag Geese of the year (two) flew east over Eashing Fields, where a female Stonechat was in The Meadow.

Thursday 29th

No birding.