Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

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Thursday, 23 September 2021

A change of scene

I've hammered local birding pretty much non-stop for the last few years. After a particularly energy sapping 2020, this year has been a bit of a slog on patch and I decided a while ago I wanted to have an 'autumn off' the local grind. So, this week is the first of hopefully a few this season in which I'll be elsewhere, enjoying a change of scenery (bar one trip to Wales I haven't left England for 20 months). I've happily accepted I might miss a Surrey mega or patch blocker while I'm away and to be honest it feels quite unburdening. Bring on the next few weeks!

Pale-belled Brent Goose.

Friday 17th

It was cold and misty first thing at Thursley, though eventually the sun came out. Vis-mig was rather light – 80 or more Meadow Pipits through south early on and a similar amount of Swallows in the same direction were of note, as was a single flock of 25 House Martins (amazingly my first record of the species here this year!).

A couple of Tree Pipits went through with the mipits – my third record at a third local site in the last four days, suggesting the typical late August / early September peak for this species is taking place later this year. Other bits included 12 Egyptian Geese on Pudmore, a Woodlark briefly in song, a flyover Grey Wagtail and a young Kestrel hunting around Shrike Hill.


Juvenile Kestrel.

News of Surrey's first Corn Bunting for more than four years broke at midday, and I just had time to get to Beddington to be taken on a chaperoned walk onto the private part of the site the bird had earlier been seen. Sadly there was no sign for the assembled twitchers, though it was nice to be back in the 'inner sanctum' of this famous site for the first time in several years.

Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were all noted, as well as two Wheatears, a Green Sandpiper and a Whitethroat. A few Wigeon were distantly seen on Northern Lake too. As for the bunting, it seems likely the odd wanderer from the western Kent / eastern London populations must make it into the far, un-birded corners of north-eastern Surrey. Maybe something to try during the winter …

Saturday 18th

No observations of note today.

Sunday 19th

It was overcast and gloomy at Shackleford in the morning. For the first time this autumn Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were flocked up in the northern fields but today, unlike on this date last year, there was no Short-toed Lark with them. I reminisced for a while – that lark really was the type of find that should have been reward for many years of patching such areas and I thought today, as I did in the immediate moments after I'd found the bird, that such a mad occurrence will surely be my peak in terms of local discoveries. 

Aside from the amble down memory lane it was very quiet. It must have been a month or so since I last failed to note either Wheatear or Whinchat here, as was the case today, though singles of Yellow Wagtail and Swallow went through and a male Kestrel was patrolling the hedgerows.

Frensham Great Pond was similarly quiet afterwards, though a drake Pochard was on the southern shore, avoiding the gaggle of wild swimmers, and a Kingfisher zipped by. A handful of Siskins, two Swallows and a House Martin flew through too.

Monday 20th

A glance out the kitchen window late morning revealed a Kestrel being mobbed by two Jackdaws.

Tuesday 21st

It was drizzly and grey at Shannon Airport, where Hooded Crow, Rock Pipit and a group of Sand Martins were noted before I met with Josh and Dan. On the drive north to Co Clare, a stop off at Caranavoodaun Turlough in Co Galway was productive, with a juvenile Wood Sandpiper very much of note here out west. Other bits included two hibernicus Jays, an adult Whooper Swan, a juvenile Black-tailed Godwit, two Dunlin and no fewer than 50 Little Grebes.

We then spent the afternoon working sites in south Co Mayo, starting at Lough Baun. On the beach here we couldn't pick out anything of note among hundreds of Sanderlings, Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. Despite the damp and dull weather, a few first-year birds of the latter species were practicing their display techniques.

Sanderlings.

We had better joy at the next site – Roonah Lough – where a peachy juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was in with some Sanderlings near the outflow stream. A Wheatear was on the rocks and a few Gannets were offshore.



Curlew Sandpiper (and Sanderling).

The sun came out when we reached Corragaun Lough, a site I really enjoyed. The other guys explored the lough itself, inadvertently flushing a wing-tagged adult White-tailed Eagle which I was able to get on at range. We later found out the bird had been born wild on the Beara Peninsula in 2016.

Distant White-tailed Eagle.

I worked the outflow stream and sandy beach, which was great fun under the blue skies with nobody around – this place would be heaving in England. A female Pale-belled Brent Goose proved surprisingly tame here, with a nice selection of waders including 27 Curlews, 18 Turnstones and a single Little Stint.




Nine Chough were roving around, four Stonechats were on the fences, 10 Shags were offshore and a first-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull was in with a big roosting Great Black-backed, Herring and Common Gull flock.

Wednesday 22nd

It was grey and breezy this morning at our digs for the next couple of weeks, Dooega village in Achill Island, at the western extremity of Co Mayo. A Yellow Wagtail was a real surprise to hear while I was working and I eventually pinned it down from the living room window, in with some Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits – a good bird this far west. I headed out late morning for a stroll around the village, noting a female Sparrowhawk, five Lesser Redpolls and a Stonechat while getting to know the area a bit. 

In the afternoon we went to the far west of the island, which sticks out into the Atlantic. Keem Bay and Corrymore were quiet, with a Raven seen overhead, and by the time we got to Keel a heavy front had moved in. The art house gardens held four Goldcrests and a hibernicus Coal Tit, but we soon called it a day. A quick check of Keel golf course – where I saw a Semipalmated Plover in 2018 – produced two Dunlin.

Thursday 23rd

A calm and bright day – a rarity out west. I walked the village and surrounds for a couple of hours in the morning, recording 33 species. The Yellow Wagtail was still about but otherwise I saw not a single migrant – par for the course on such rarity hunting grounds, where the 'all or nothing' and 'when it's quiet it's really quiet' caveats apply greatly. There was still plenty of content that's novel for the Surrey birder, though, including four first-year Shags on the jetty, 29 roosting Turnstones and 35 Rock Doves.

We headed out late afternoon, stopping by at Dooagh where a Pink-footed Goose was feeding in some fields. This bird has been present since 19th and may even have been the same individual that was here last autumn. Two Sandwich Terns and 12 Greenshanks were the best from Achill Sound and Corraun Shore afterwards.

Pink-footed Goose.

We ended the day at Lough Sruhil for the high tide wader roost. Here we managed 12 shorebird species, with the highlights two Golden Plovers, a single Whimbrel, 21 Knot, nine Bar-tailed Godwits and two Black-tailed Godwits. Four Black Guillemots flew west offshore and 17 Red-breasted Mergansers were knocking about.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

September cocktail

I know I’ve mentioned it a few times, but what an odd year 2021 has been. A long old winter, a cold and wet spring and a soaking summer have rolled into a frankly bizarre September – this past week I’ve seen a crazy cocktail of species, from Swift, Sedge Warbler and Swallow to Pintail, Pochard and Golden Plover. In keeping with the 2021 theme so far it hasn’t felt particularly great at any point, but even in this rather fallow and strange year the beauty of local birding can still shine through, as indeed it has done this week.

Surely my bird of the year locally: the first south-west Surrey Little Stint for 27 years.

Thursday 9th

The warm weather broke down overnight, with a misty yet muggy southerly in position as I walked to Unstead Water Meadows and back after breakfast. There seemed to be more Robins around than usual and I counted at least 25 at the meadows alone, many of which were performing their peaceful autumn song. Presumably this species is on the move now, which would tie in with my noc-mig record two nights ago. 

The most notable birds from a grand total of 40 were a Cetti's Warbler, calling in riverside vegetation, and a Firecrest in a mixed flock near Upper Unstead Farm. Nearly 100 Swallows and House Martins were foraging over the cattle herd and a handful of Blackcaps were skulking in bushes. Singles of Great Crested Grebe and Cormorant were at Broadwater Lake, where a Moorhen was guiding round a very small (and late) chick and two fine Canada x Greylag Goose hybrids were about.

Hybrid action at Broadwater.

Friday 10th 

It was overcast and gloomy at Thursley, where the mild southerly was pushing through the odd front of light drizzle. It was quiet – I only logged 37 species – and Pudmore didn't hold much save counts of 97 Greylag Geese and 55 Pied Wagtails. Migrants were thin on the ground with a Wheatear near Crossbill Corner the only obvious one; two Willow Warblers and a flyover Tree Pipit may have been on the move. Three Woodlarks and singles of Kestrel and Grey Wagtail where about, while a Kingfisher over the Moat was my first on the common this year away from Forked Pond.

Wheatear.

A Firecrest was calling along the railway line in Farncombe late afternoon.

Saturday 11th

An excellent day out on the Selsey peninsula with Dave and Sam in largely warm, sunny conditions saw us yield no fewer than 106 species, a total we were very satisfied with. A little over seven hours around Pagham Harbour delivered a mighty 92 of these, with the highlight a first-winter Red-backed Shrike, present since 5 September, at the west end of the North Wall.




Red-backed Shrike.

The North Wall and Halsey's and Honer Farms felt quite lively and passerine totals included two female-type Redstarts, Tree Pipit, three Whinchats, Lesser Whitethroat, three Willow Warblers, seven Wheatears and 25 or more Yellow Wagtails. Some 14 Cattle Egrets included youngsters still on the nest, while a Coot was swimming around with two very small chicks. Two each of Kingfisher and Sparrowhawk were also here.



Wheatears, Willow Warbler and Whinchat.

No fewer than 19 wader species during the day included a decent selection around the harbour. Four Knot, a female Ruff, two Turnstones, a juvenile Common Sandpiper, a handful of Grey Plovers, an odd, short-billed Greenshank (one of three) and stacks of Black-tailed Godwits were in among the commoner species from the North Wall.


Greenshank and Common Sandpiper.

Ferry Pool was quiet, though six Spotted Redshanks were on Ferry Channel. Church Norton was a little off form as well, though two Spotted Flycatchers were at Glebe Meadow, five Wheatears were about and a Whimbrel was on the mud. Bits off Norton Spit included 14 Sandwich Terns and eight Gannets.

We were at Medmerry a little after 2 pm. Here we managed a species list of 70 in the following three hours which were truly fantastic – stacks of birds in lovely early autumn conditions. Moving hirundines (including 500 or more Sand Martins) and Yellow Wagtails were a constant throughout. Raptors were well represented too with a juvenile Osprey fishing on Ruth’s Marsh, a couple of Marsh Harrier cruising about and a minimum of 10 Kestrels patrolling the fields.

Osprey.

Passerine action was headlined by a Grasshopper Warbler we flushed from a grassy bank near Earnley Viewpoint, with two Whinchats and five Wheatears also noted. However, the best of the action came at Stilt Pools, where we were happy to pick out four Little Stints. Up to five were here in late August but there had been no reports since then. Despite the poor light we enjoyed good views of this diminutive Calidrid, which has had a bumper autumn (see here).

Little Stint.

Other bits on Stilt Pools included a female Ruff, two Little Ringed Plovers, four Cattle Egrets, singles of Common Sandpiper, Avocet and Pintail, eight Egyptian Geese and a striking first-winter Black-headed x Mediterranean Gull hybrid. A squealing Water Rail on the way back to the car completed an excellent day in the field.

Sunday 12th

A couple of House Martins were still on Godalming breeding grounds in the early evening.

Monday 13th

After a busy day of work, I decided to join Kit on his post-work trip to Pulborough Brooks. While driving through Bramley we were most surprised to spot an Osprey flying low south-west over the village. The bird, clearly loitering in the area and not on the move, was heading towards the Bramley Park Lake / Snowdenham Mill Pond area and is perhaps the one seen at Wonersh in late August. Amazingly enough, it’s the second time in three years I’ve seen Osprey from a moving car in Bramley! A little further down the A281 a flock of 14 Lapwings were noted in flight opposite Dunsfold Aerodrome.

Once at the brooks we headed to Hanger Viewpoint, where our quarry was soon espied: a Pectoral Sandpiper. The bird, a juvenile, was found yesterday and was hanging out with two Ruff and a Dunlin. As is often the case here it was stratospherically distant, but it was still nice to see only my third of this species (and first since 2016).

Distant waders at Pulborough (Pec is the left-most bird).

Other bits included a most unexpected two Swifts – my latest ever British record by seven days! A few Yellow Wagtails were in with the cattle, two Greenshanks were about, good numbers of winter wildfowl were on pools (I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pintail and Swift on the same day before … ) and a Firecrest was calling in the car park. Not bad for a couple of hours after work.

Tuesday 14th

Heavy rain set in overnight, with the wind hanging in the east. I hadn’t planned on going out today but such conditions tempted me to Tuesley – and I’m very pleased I went. I thought a new personal high count of 19 Little Grebes would be the headline maker after the first few scans, but then I picked up a distant, small Calidrid on the far shore. 

Straight away I had a good feel for what it was but visibility was poor and I wanted to be sure. I crept round the side and my suspicions were confirmed – a juvenile Little Stint. I was buzzing – it’s been a bumper autumn for this species but I never thought one would turn up here. To boot, the immaculate bird was super tame, showing down to a few feet. Only born a couple of months ago in the High Arctic, it probably hadn’t seen humans before. A truly memorable encounter … I doubt I’ll find anything better this year. It is a shame this site is highly private but that's how it goes.





Little Stint action. What a bird! Also some mobile phone footage below ...


This was a site first and the first in south-west Surrey since May 1994. All seven of the previous local records have been at Frensham back when the beach wasn’t disturbed, emphasising the rarity of this species locally. Also, fittingly, it becomes 150 for my south-west Surrey year list. Prior to this bird there had only been two records since the Millenium anywhere in outer Surrey, both at Tice’s. Funnily enough, one turned up there later today – surely the Tuesley bird.

Inevitably being on site for so long meant other stuff was noted, with the best my first Tuesley Tree Pipit of the year, which circled for a bit then flew south. Eight Meadow Pipits, a Wheatear and a couple of Yellow Wagtails were about, singles of Hobby and Kestrel shot through and 25 Tufted Duck that flew in bumped up the count of the moulting flock to 76 – a new record. 

Tree Pipit record shot (it's that time of year I'm afraid!).

Mid-afternoon I checked Frensham Great Pond, but the rain had cleared to high cloud with blue skies. An early female Pochard was a surprise on the south side and I counted a personal best 38 Great Crested Grebes. Interestingly I saw no hirundines whatsoever. A cursory check of Tuesley afterwards revealed that the stint had moved on …

Wednesday 15th

Ringing at Shackleford took place under dark, grey skies and a gentle northerly wind. Some 44 species noted during the session was pretty good, with the clear highlight a Golden Plover that bombed through north, calling manically as it went. A relatively early first of the autumn.

A slightly more distant wader than yesterday ...

Yet another Sedge Warbler was around – the fifth of the autumn here (and third to be ringed). A Tree Pipit over was only the third of 2021, while 40 or more Meadow Pipits were in the alfala. Other bits included Whinchat, Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, Little Owl, Kestrel, Ring-necked Parakeet and two Grey Wagtails.

Sedge Warbler.

Thursday 16th

No observations of note today.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Indian summer incoming?

During this upside down year it was only fitting that we slipped from a cold and windy August into a warm and sunny September. To be fair, the fine conditions have only reached us during the last couple of days, but they’ve still conjured up a pleasant Indian Summer feeling, rendering thoughts of autumn proper rather distant. Indeed, it would be most on-brand for autumn 2021 to be mild and settled … as they have been all year, things have been steady this past week, but it’s been so refreshing to go out in the mornings and for it to be warm and lively.

Wheatears have been on the move this week.

Wednesday 1st

September started how August ended – grey and gloomy. The Tuesley Common Sandpiper made it into the month and record counts for Tufted Duck (50) and Little Grebe (14) were pleasingly set. A few Sand Martins were swirling overhead and a Hobby zipped through, but the highlight came when two adult Ringed Plovers dropped in. Particularly vocal, they settled for less than two minutes before continuing on their journey south.

Ringos.

Frensham Great Pond was quiet afterwards, though it was nice to pick out two September Swifts among the large mixed hirundine flock. A Siskin flew east too.

Thursday 2nd

A House Martin was heard from the kitchen window during the morning.

Friday 3rd

Mid-afternoon a female Sparrowhawk was espied from the kitchen window and, to my surprise, was being mobbed by three Swifts. Given their behaviour I wondered if they were perhaps very late local birds, though my last Farncombe Swifts were two weeks ago … this idea was reinforced when, in the early evening, a high flock of 11 birds were seen over a pub garden nearby.

Saturday 4th

The continuing north-easterly hopefully huffed one final puff this morning, with another grey and cool session. I started at Tuesley, where the Tufted Duck numbers were again up with 58 counted. Plenty of wagtails were feasting on the insects and were joined by a Whinchat – surprisingly my first here. A Wheatear was also knocking about.



Shackleford was up next, where a relatively quiet hour-and-a-half session saw 37 species logged. Six Wheatears was a pleasing count during what’s been a poor autumn for them. Singles of Whinchat, Whitethroat and Grey Wagtail were of note and a Grey Heron was hunting in the alfalfa.


As I was contemplating my next move, news broke of two Spotted Redshanks at Tice’s Meadow. One of my easiest remaining Surrey lifers, the 15-minute drive outweighed the desire to one day find my own somewhere, so I headed over. The birds, both juveniles and found by Mark E, were feeding happily out in The Meadow but got gradually fidgety and departed high west about half an hour after my arrival. My 226th vice-county bird ...

Surprisingly rare in Surrey (one or two records a year about average, and almost always near London), these represented only the third Tice’s record, so there were a few disappointed people scrambling up Horton's Mound only to hear they’d flown. However, the supporting cast was nothing to be sniffed at, with a Great Egret (new in this morning), long-staying drake Garganey, five Greenshanks, Kingfisher and Green Sandpiper all about. I also counted some 236 Greylag Geese, four Snipe, 34 Lapwings and 75 or more Teal.



Spotshanks and Great Egret.

In the afternoon, a planned session at Painshill Farm was cut short by a noisy fleet of tractors tilling the fields. Another late Swift was notable, along with an impressive 150 Stock Doves on the newly bare earth and a juvenile Sparrowhawk. Chiddingfold Forest afterwards was ghostly quiet, though six Slowworms and two Bullfinches were seen.

Slowworm.

Sunday 5th

The north-easterly had abated, swung round to the east and it was milder, less windy and, best of all, a bit birdy. I joined Dave for a big session at Thursley during which we had an enjoyable time, despite going relatively unrewarded compared to the scenes elsewhere in Surrey today (see here). Among 45 species were several (presumed) migrants including three Whinchats on Ockley Common, a Wheatear on Shrike Hill, seven Yellow and two Grey Wagtails and two Tree Pipits.

A juvenile male Peregrine was, amazingly, my first in south-west Surrey since 10 April – this is a highly localised breeding bird, with encounters far more regular in winter. At one point the local Hobbies mobbed the Peg over Pudmore. Other bits included two each of Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher, Bullfinch, three Willow Warblers, Kestrel and a decent count of 14 Cormorants. A couple of Graylings and six Common Lizards were also seen.




Wheatear, Dartford Warbler and Common Lizard.

Monday 4th

For the first time this autumn – and one of the few times this year – it felt properly birdy this morning in the warm sunshine. I was slightly limited for time, unfortunately, but still managed an hour-and-a-half at Painshill Farm where a good session was had, despite my inability to dig out the big one. Singles of Whinchat, Willow Warbler and Redstart highlighted, while three Yellow Wagtails flew over. Adult male and female Sparrowhawks were hunting, Stock Dove numbers were again into triple-figures, 70 or more Red-legged Partridges were about, a male Kestrel was on lookout and 110 Linnets roved around the fields.

Tuesday 5th

It was warm and bright early on at Shackleford. Despite temperatures reaching 20 Celsius by the end of the two-hour session it was the first real indicator of autumn proper that highlighted – a Meadow Pipit, calling in flight over the alfalfa. My first of the season, with my last record locally back on 1 May (Mipit has been lost as a regular breeding species in south-west Surrey). Thoughts of misty vis-mig sessions are always conjured up when I hear my first of the autumn, even on this particularly summer-like morning …

Despite a lot of coverage there was a feeling this morning, unlike yesterday, that there had been a clear out overnight. I still managed Whinchat, three Wheatears and five Yellow Wagtails, but a late summer procession was the overriding feeling. 

Yellow Wagtail.

Other bits included two Grey Wagtails (there seems to be a few of these moving at the moment), Little Owl, Hobby, Kestrel, two Reed Buntings, four Stonechats, 100 or more LinnetsLesser Black-backed Gull and six Ring-necked Parakeets.

In the evening a noc-mig session at Shackleford was relatively quiet, though a few passerines were on the move including Tree Pipit, Robin and a flycatcher species. There was plenty of Little and Tawny Owl action too.

Wednesday 8th

It was another warm and bright morning for ringing at Shackleford. The nets were relatively busy and included a juvenile male Reed Bunting that was just beginning to grow its distinctive head pattern feathers. The bird of the session, though, was yet another Sedge Warbler – the fourth of the autumn here, three of which have been in the same small margin. This bird eluded the nets but was watched foraging and preening at close range.

Juvenile male Reed Bunting.

Two Whinchats also came close, one even sitting on one of the net poles. A Wheatear and four Yellow Wagtails were about too, and 100 or more Swallows moved east along the North Downs at dawn. A flock of 34 Greylag Geese flew west, while other bits included Little Owl, two Kestrels and Whitethroat. A Feral Pigeon that had been dyed pink gave a good bleeding-heart impression as it bombed east!