Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Close season

It's been a quiet first half of June, as spring has gently converted to summer. The dawn chorus is much reduced, juvenile birds are ever more evident and the days are long and warm. Surrey did in fact have a rather barnstorming few days at the start of the month in terms of rarities, but action in south-west Surrey was limited during this period and most of my sessions have been steady.


Monday 30th May

My first local session in nearly two weeks took place at Chiddingfold Forest after work, where two each of Nightingale and Garden Warbler were in song despite the rainy weather. Marsh Tit and Firecrest were also noted, while Swift and House Martin represented unexpected site firsts for me.

Tuesday 31st May

No birding.

Wednesday 1st June

No birding.

Thursday 2nd June

It was sunny and mild at Shackleford this morning, where 41 species was a good June total. The highlight was a Reed Warbler singing from deep blackthorn cover, marking my just about annual incongruous reedy record locally (and also only my second here). A Cuckoo flew east over, fittingly, Cuckoo Corner, the Stonechat pair had at least one juvenile in tow and some 200 Starlings were roving around.

The afternoon gardening was abruptly interrupted by a message and a flying trip up the A3 to Walton. Here, Chris T had pulled out a monster find: Surrey's second Lesser Yellowlegs, and a spanking summer-plumage bird to boot. The bird was settled and we enjoyed great views as it fed persistently along the shore, even performing the occasional short flight and vocalisation. 

Absolutely mega – number 229 for me in the vice-county. An amazing footnote: this bird was photographed at Frankfield Loch, Clyde, two days later. The wonders of migration and vagrancy!

Lesser Yellowlegs.

A Ringed Plover and a leucistic Starling (which briefly got the heart rate up!) were also noted, along with plenty of familiar faces.

Friday 3rd June

My first visit to Thursley for two-and-a-half weeks was a pleasant affair under warm, sunny skies. The Curlew pair pleasingly had two chicks in tow on Ockley, looking about a week old – fingers crossed for full fledging. Lapwing and Snipe were also noted, along with Spotted Flycatcher in Spur Wood, a female Redstart taking food into a nest hole, a flyover Siskin and two wonderfully showy Hobbies over Shrike Hill.

Hobbies and displaying Tree Pipit.

Saturday 4th June

No birding.

Sunday 5th June

No birding.

Monday 6th June

A catch-up with Matt, Abel and Sam in the evening included quiet visits to Waltham Brooks and Amberley Wildbrooks, with the two released immature White-tailed Eagles seen from the Rackham viewpoint at the latter site.

Tuesday 7th June

I walked Shackleford before work, with the most notable observation a flock of nearly 300 gulls – a really high count for the local area, especially in the summer. No fewer than 17 were Lesser Black-backed Gulls, marking my biggest-ever on the deck tally of this species in south-west Surrey. One of them – a second-summer – was bearing a red ring on its right tarsus but I couldn't get close enough to read it.

Red-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Wednesday 8th June

Hobby became a welcome addition to my 1 km year list during a pre-work walk around Eashing Fields, where at least seven Skylarks were counted – presumably displaced from recently cut arable fields in the local area. 

Thursday 9th June

Thursley was quiet this morning though there were positive signs coming from the breeding waders: the Lapwings were being particularly aggressive towards the local Carrion Crows (I suspect a nest is nearby), the Curlew pair were still marshalling their two chicks around and two male Snipe were singing.

Lapwing and Redstart.

I walked along the river mid-afternoon. A Little Egret over Eashing Marsh was a surprise – I wonder where the nearest breeding site to Godalming is? A Spotted Flycatcher was in song and a group of six Red Kites enjoyed a thermal together under the increasingly grey skies.

Friday 10th June

No birding.

Saturday 11th June

No birding.

Sunday 12th June

A Palmate Newt was an unexpected garden visitor in the afternoon.

Monday 13th

A long walk along the river this morning produced 55 species – a rather typical midsummer haul. A Hobby flew upriver at Unstead Water Meadows, where both Sedge and Reed Warblers were in song and the female Stonechat carefully gathered horse hair from the paddocks, presumably to line the nest ahead of a second brood.

Female Stonechat.

At the Lammas Lands a Reed Warbler was a surprise on Catteshall Meadow – a first for me here. A Lesser Black-backed Gull (presumably one of the Farncombe breeders) flew over and both Stonechat and Reed Bunting were carrying food. 

Two Garden Warblers were noted along the Eashing stretch, which was otherwise quiet

Garden Warbler and Green Woodpecker.

Tuesday 14th

Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, Nightingale, Spotted Flycatcher and two Willow Warblers (including a mixed singer) were among the species in song at Chiddingfold Forest this morning. Young Firecrests and Marsh Tits were nice to see, but the highlight was a female and fawn Muntjac that pottered about on a track for a short while before disappearing into the understory.


Wednesday 15th

My first Marbled White of the year was on the wing at Eashing Fields at lunchtime, where a family party of Linnets were in The Meadow.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Finland and Norway

I'm not long back from a wonderful trip to Finland and Norway. It was perhaps my most enjoyable foreign venture yet – absolutely peak European birding with a long list of iconic species (208 in total) and memorable encounters, amid breathtaking landscapes. I won't have time for a proper trip report but my eBird report can be read here (ebird.org/tripreport/58472). I'll also be writing a feature in the next edition of Birdwatch. Back to south-west Surrey birding now ...

Siberian Jay, Konttainen Hill, Finland, 20 May 2022.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

May making up

In the end May made up for April this spring, with all my good birds this passage season coming this month (save a couple in March). It's been a weird spring with a strong Jekyll and Hyde theme; long periods of doldrums but short bursts of real quality. In all, combined with the fair weather, it's been enjoyable. And maybe I'm calling it too early as well, for June can easily turn up something special …

A showy, summer-plumage Turnstone: a strong contender for local bird of the year.

Tuesday 10th

There was a brisk south-westerly with cloud (and even the odd bit of drizzle) at Tuesley this morning, which was enough to force two Dunlin down low enough to be seen as they zipped through north – a fleeting encounter indeed. I expect to encounter Dunlin annually in south-west Surrey but they can prove to be slippery customers sometimes (i.e. one record last year).


Two Swifts also moved north, a Common Sandpiper was foraging on the shore and a bright female Greenland Wheatear dropped in during the heaviest of the rain.


A message from Shaun had me racing down to Frensham after work: two Arctic Terns at the Great Pond. The birds were amid a passage flock of some 12 Common Terns in breezy, muggy conditions, and I spent an enjoyable half-hour watching them pick insects off the surface of the water. Always a quality species to see locally and side-by-side comparison with their Common congeners was an added bonus.

Arctic Terns.

The biggest numbers of hirundines (200 or more) and Swifts (at least 50) I've seen this spring were also zipping about, and the Cetti's Warbler was heard singing in the eastern reedbed.

Wednesday 11th

An afternoon of breezy westerlies and rain felt very good for waterbodies, but I couldn't get to Tuesley until after work, by which point the wind had abated and the sun was out. An initial scan seemed to confirm that nothing was doing – but then I picked up a stonking male Turnstone on the north shore!

Initial views of the Turnstone ...

The bird, in full breeding regalia, looked glorious in the early evening sunshine and I was treated to a magical couple of hours with the bird. It spent time feeding on the shore, favouring the outflow area, but occasionally flew around calling, often trying to land on buoys or rafts occupied by other birds. It looked most incongruous at times – but absolutely gorgeous, with the rusty orange plumage with shocks of white and black quite stunning.

Turnstone photodump.

Needless to say it was a south-west Surrey lifer. In fact, Turnstone is pretty mega, with the last south-west Surrey record in 2012 (four flyovers at Tuesley). You have to go back to 1999 for one prior to that and in total there have only been 11 records. Simply a monster bird in every way!

To cap things off a flock of five Dunlin circled and flew off south. You have to be lucky to cash in on inland wader passage as it can be so fleeting, especially around here – but when your luck is in it's often thrilling. 


Thursday 12th

It was bright and fresh a Thursley this morning. A two-and-a-half hour session seemed like it was going to be quiet until a whirlwind few minutes typical of this site out on Ockley Common. First, a Snipe began drumming overhead – wonderful stuff. Then, I heard the Meadow Pipit for the first time since 1st, surely confirming it’s not just a late winterer.

Drumming Snipe.

This was soon followed by an Osprey flying low north in the direction of Birchy Pond. Presumably it had roosted in one of the pines on Ockley and was disturbed; I didn’t see it fly off so I guess it re-landed somewhere out of view. My third local Osprey of the spring – a species that always requires a large element of luck to encounter.

Other bits of note included two Water Rails, four Lapwings, Curlew, a Dartford Warbler carrying food and a few juvenile Stonechats and Woodlarks.

Friday 13th

Two Swifts were over Eashing Fields late afternoon.

Saturday 14th

There was a lazy summer feel to my early morning walk around the Lammas Lands, with recently fledged Great Tits and Starlings noted as well as Linnets and Reed Buntings carrying food. Both male Sedge Warblers were still in song and four noisy Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew over.

I then headed to Shackleford, where three late Wheatears – seemingly all second-year birds – were pottering around. In fact these birds mark my latest ever spring record in Surrey. A drake Mandarin over was of note – only my second record here! It was good to confirm breeding success of the Stonechats too, with both adults feeding noisy chicks.


A Spotted Flycatcher and two Garden Warblers were along the river at Eashing later in the morning.

Sunday 15th

No birding.

Monday 16th

Late news of a Wood Warbler near Hambledon yesterday had me there early on this morning, which was rather grey and misty after a night of thundery showers. Alas there was no sign of the warbler, with a Marsh Tit and two Firecrests the consolation.

A decent passage of Swifts was taking place over Shackleford in the early evening, with perhaps 100 birds involved. The Stonechat pair were still busily feeding young but it was otherwise quiet.

Tuesday 17th

It was warm and hazy at Thursley this morning, with a session that had an end of season feel to it yielding 49 species. Three Little Egrets low over West Bog was perhaps the most notable observation, Snipe and Lapwing were displaying and a male Kestrel caught a Slowworm on High Ground. 

Wednesday 18th

No birding.

Monday, 9 May 2022

A sarnie amid the steadiness

The first week or two of May always through up some excitement locally. This has been the case this year, although in general things have been rather steady, lacking somewhat in both dynamism and numbers of migrants – much like spring 2022 as a whole. But, as always at this season, there's been loads to see and enjoy, and I can't turn my nose up at a period that produced a local lifer.

Sandwich Tern: my first south-west Surrey lifer in seven months.

Sunday 1st

On 1 May last year Dave and I broke the Thursley big day record with 76 species, so I thought I'd head out there today and see how many I could tally up today. Some five hours, 16 km and 20,000 steps later and I managed 75 – not bad at all. The highlight was a Little Ringed Plover over Pudmore early on, which was a welcome site first for me. A Yellow Wagtail followed overhead shortly afterwards.

Curlew, Snipe and Meadow Pipit were all in song on Ockley, with the latter presumably the same male I had at South Bog on 26 April. It'll be amazing if he pairs up and breeds. The three Lapwings were also around with both the males displaying. A Hobby over High Ground was a year first and I'm sure it was taking more than a passing interest in the light northward passage of hirundines that was taking place and involving all three species.

Lapwing action.

Excellent numbers of Woodlark included a family party of five birds near Crossbill Corner. Several presumed second brood males were in voice again too. Four Garden and 12 Willow Warblers were singing, as well as a decent five Tree Pipits. The biggest omission of the morning was Treecreeper! 

I checked Tuesley late afternoon. A striking Lesser Black-backed Gull caught my eye and seemed to fit intermedius. It was smaller than graellsii birds nearby and, most notably, had much darker upperparts. Dark enough to rule out a Dutch intergrade? I'm not sure. Intermedius is very rare locally and I've only ever seen one before in south-west Surrey …

Intermedius-type LBB (right-hand bird).

Two Hobbies flew east as well, spooking the gathered hirundines as they went.

Monday 2nd

A Whimbrel heading north over the garden was a real surprise this morning and a welcome 1 km (and garden) tick. It's been a great spring for inland passage of this species …

Later on I walked Shackleford, where a quiet but pleasant hour-and-a-half stroll produced a male Greenland Wheatear, two Ravens, a distant singing Cuckoo and a Little Owl.

Little Owl and Wheatear.

Observations during an afternoon bike ride included two Nightingales, Siskin and Garden Warbler at Milford Common, Yellowhammer, Redstart and Willow Warbler at Witley Common and Kingfisher, two Common Terns, two Firecrests and a Reed Warbler at Enton Lakes.


Tuesday 3rd

A strange morning at Tuesley. The remains of a Whimbrel were a grim early discovery and looked to be the work of a fox. A sad end for a bird on a long journey … four Little Egrets over was a whacky May record indeed – I wonder what they were up to?

Three Yellow Wagtails went over before the session was capped off by two very much alive Whimbrel that circled before heading south. What a bonkers spring for this species – I've now had 11 individuals locally (zero last year; usually one or two annually).

Whimbrel and ex-Whimbrel.

My first Swift of the year was in a mixed flock of some 100 hirundines at Frensham Great Pond in the evening.

Wednesday 4th

A promising forecast coupled with a big movement of birds up the Severn yesterday meant I was staking out Tuesley from first light. It started well, too, with two Whimbrel going north at 05:33. I appreciate I'm repeating myself a bit now, but what a totally nuts spring for this species, something noticed by other patch-watchers in the South-East.

More Whimbrel ...

Unfortunately the promised rain never came, and my vigil was pretty quiet save a light passage of Swallows and Sand Martins, a Yellow Wagtail and my fourth Tuesley Kingfisher. I was packing my stuff up at 07:25 when a familiar call came from overhead: Sandwich Tern!

I picked the bird up heading steadily south – I had to unpack my camera and thus only got poor record shots. I presumed it had gone, but about a minute later it reappeared, this time flying low north, treating me to sensational views. It disappeared to the north – a brilliant encounter over in minutes.

Sandwich Tern.

Only my second Surrey record, and a first for me in south-west Surrey (number 185), this marked a very pleasing find after the relative slog of the last few weeks. The last south-west Surrey record came at Unstead SF in May 2015 – there have only been six records in the 21st century and the nature of this species' brevity when passing through inland counties makes this morning feel especially fortunate.

Thursday 5th

I was back in the Dunsfold area today, visiting Painshill Farm again. This time I did score Lesser Whitethroat – a rather mobile and skulking male that was occasionally giving some song. A second bird may have been present too. Thanks to Graham for the tip-off. 

Lesser Whitethroat.

It really is mad how rare and localised this species is in south-west Surrey, with two adjacent sites in the Dunsfold area the only places they're reliably found (and even then they can be tricky). In fact, a look through my records suggests this was only the 11th time I've seen Lesser Whitethroat in south-west Surrey – crazy!

Two each of Nightingale and Garden Warbler and singles of Cuckoo, Yellowhammer and Skylark were in song as well, while a Raven cronked away to the south-east.

Friday 6th

Both Sedge Warblers were still going for it on the Lammas Lands this morning, where a breeding-plumage Little Egret dropped into Hell Ditch and a Grey Wagtail was taking food into a nest.

Little Egret.

Saturday 7th

The Surrey 5km bird race challenge today saw Sam and I (joined in part by Dave and Matt) conduct a massive 15-hour session in the field. A separate post about our efforts can be read here.

Sunday 8th

No observations of note.

Monday 9th

No birding today.