Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

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Sunday, 16 January 2022

2022 begins

A new year is upon us. The outlook for 2022 looks significantly brighter compared with this time last year, when we were locked down. South-west Surrey will again be my birding platform in the coming 12 months and, while I'll casually keep a local year list, I have a few other target-based plans as well. I've also moved house (more here) which has added a fun dimension to things.

Goosander were a theme locally in the first few days of 2022.

Saturday 1st

2022 began with both the obligatory hangover and an early start at the Lammas Lands, where a male Tawny Owl was hooting to the south. Here I met Dave ahead of a morning of local birding and it got off to flier, too, with four Goosander – a drake and three redheads – heading high up the River Wey. My first along the river, Goosander is rare anywhere within a 5 km radius of Godalming. 

Our Snipe stomp was pretty woeful – a measly three birds flushed. However, a first-winter Dartford Warbler was another pleasing record and presumably the bird I had on 20 November. Other bits from a decent, hour-long walk included a Little Egret in Hell Ditch, three Stonechats, two Kestrels and four Reed Buntings.



Dartford Warbler, Snipe and Stonechat.

We then headed to Enton Lakes, where four drake Pochard – another Godalming area goodie – were present. Really unseasonal conditions meant plenty of birds were in song, but we didn't note much else here, save six Great Crested Grebes.

Pochard.

We then headed a bit further afield, to Cutt Mill. Here, a redhead Goosander, seven Shoveler and 13 Mandarin were on the house pond, but better was to come along the track back up to the road: a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. A real bonus bird for New Year's Day, it stayed put for a while and allowed a small crowd of Goosander year list tickers to connect. Lovely stuff!

The morning ended with a nice bonus south-west Surrey year bird: Wigeon. Some 14 of them were on what was left of the Wrecclesham water meadow floods.

Sunday 2nd

Another unseasonably mild morning and another snipe stomp, this time at Shalford Water Meadows. Unlike the Lammas Lands there were decent numbers here: a very conservative minimum of 30 Common Snipe, plus two Jack Snipe which were flushed in close succession from virtually under my feet. A nice one to get – I'll return with the thermal imager. A surprise Woodcock completed the set nicely.

Other bits from a two-hour session included a drake Shoveler on Broadford Marsh, a pair of Stonechats at Bog Meadow, some Kestrel interaction on top of a nest box and six Cormorants.

Cormorants.

I checked Snowdenham Mill Pond afterwards. To my delight, a group of six Goosander were present – a site first for me after years of expecting one here. The birds – two drakes and four redheads (two adult females and two first-winters) – showed fairly well, far more bothered with looking for food (including some 'scuba diving') than my presence.




Thorncombe Street Goosander ... at last!

Incredibly enough this was a Thorncombe Street tick for me – and the first lifer for my old patch since the Red-throated Pipit in 2019! There have only been two previous TS area records and, while I don't visit the area too much anymore, I have kept tabs on this little waterbody, which is one of my favourite places. Amazingly it's the 12th duck species I've seen here. Also present were two Gadwall and three each of Teal and Mandarin, which concluded a pleasant few hours in the field.

Gadwall.

Monday 3rd

It felt like early March up on The Hurtwood this morning, with plenty of birds in song and a Sparrowhawk pair engaged in full tumbling display. The highlight of the session was a group of at least 30 Bramblings on Breakneck Hill, feeding on fallen beechmast with 100 or more Chaffinches. Thirty may have been a serious undercount, too, as the birds were mobile and hard to follow, giving only the odd flash of a white rump or wheezy call.

Brambling.

I speculated on 8 November on this blog that a Brambling flock may take up residence this winter, given the amount of beech in the area and following the bumper autumn for the species, so it was nice to see it had happened. Other bits included a Dartford Warbler calling in the usual area – marking the third year in a row this species has been logged here – a 10 or more Lesser Redpolls, three Bullfinches and a Raven.

Given the conditions I thought I'd try my luck at Unstead SF for some winter warblers. Loads of insects were on the wing near the works and lagoons and it was no surprise that a minimum of four Chiffchaffs were counted, including two in song. A very elusive Cetti's Warbler was skulking around between the two lagoons, two Reed Buntings were about and a male Stonechat was in Lagoon Field.

Blurry Cetti's Warbler.

I popped out again at dusk, and had to wait half an hour after sunset before being graced by the presence of a local Barn Owl – always a magical species to encounter and an enigmatic, elusive bird locally. A Woodcock dropped into a nearby field to feed shortly afterwards as well.

Tuesday 4th

I was at Frensham Little Pond at first light, with one species on my mind: Bittern. After failing to see this species during my south-west Surrey big year in 2020, as well as last year (which was also the first time since 2002 none were reported at Frensham), I'm keen to connect this year. So, it was most welcome when Shaun P (Mr Frensham) messaged me yesterday saying he had one in flight. Sadly, today, I had no joy whatsoever, and had to settle for five Teal, six Pochard and two each of Water Rail and Kingfisher as consolation.

Wednesday 5th

I was back at Frensham Little Pond, where it was significantly colder pre-dawn with frost on the ground. Crucially I was armed with the thermal imager today. While picking up reedbed Bittern worked for me at the London Wetland Centre on 12 December, it was more of a struggle here with distance meaning it simply couldn't reach heat signals emitting from deep in the reeds. 

However, I picked up a faint signal in the south-west reedbed and, upon switching to the bins, the outline of an essentially motionless Bittern could be made out, though it soon melted away. Pretty lucky to be honest, and a touch underwhelming, but pleasing nonetheless. I'll definitely be back – I'm keen to get good views this year, having not done so since 2016.

An impressive minimum of six Water Rails were vocalising pre-dawn and four drake Pochard were on the water, while a Raven flew over Tillhill Nurseries. A windswept Frensham Common was quiet. At the Great Pond, three Shoveler and a single female Pochard were noted, while two Firecrests were foraging successfully despite the cold in holly near the outlet stream.

Firecrest.

Thursday 6th

No observations of note.

Friday 7th

I heard a Greenfinch singing from the kitchen window late morning and was struck by how less I hear this bird these days – it's declined so much since I was young. A look through my notes revealed I had only one double-figure count in 2021, and that included a family party ...

Saturday 8th

No birding today.

Sunday 9th

It was a cold, frosty and bright at Shackleford first thing, where 46 species were logged in an hour and a quarter. As they have been all winter, passerine numbers were relatively low, though they did include 60 Fieldfares, 25 Skylarks, four Stonechats and singles of Bullfinch and Reed Bunting. Lapwing, Kestrel and Ring-necked Parakeet were also of note, along with the wintering Little Grebe on Lydling Farm pond (where the Coot pair are already constructing a nest) and two Teal



Kestrel, Lapwing and Pied Wagtail.

A quick look at Loseley fields on the way home produced more than 120 geese, including 33 Greylags and eight Egyptian. Later on, a Red-legged Partridge ran over the road near Eashing.

Monday 10th

No observations of note.

Tuesday 11th

No birding today.

Wednesday 12th

An atmospheric mist was in the air this morning as I walked the Wey from Eashing to Godalming, logging 35 species. The best was a surprise Woodcock, flushed inadvertently from a ditch. I've now seen three locally this year – not bad given how elusive they are in the winter. Singles of Mandarin and Reed Bunting were also noted, 35 Siskins were near Westbrook and two Bullfinches included a singing male.

Thursday 13th

No birding today.

Friday 14th

A heavy frost coated the ground this morning and Snowdenham Mill Pond was partially frozen. A Kingfisher zipping over the south end was nice to see, while drake Gadwall and Mandarin were also noted, along with the Mute Swan pair.

I then checked out Eashing Fields, a newly created grassland area managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust on my (new) doorstep. What an introduction to this site, too – one of the first birds I picked up was a calling Dartford Warbler! It's always nice to bump into extralimital Dartfords and this one – an adult male – appeared quite happy in his little patch of gorse, though I've no doubt he was probably seething at the cold weather which likely moved him off a nearby heath. What a bird to have so close to home – and so soon after moving.


My second extralimital Dartford Warbler of 2022.

Two Stonechats were also unexpected, along with a singing Skylark. Reed Bunting and a few winter thrushes rounded off an excellent debut session here that smacked of future promise.

Saturday 15th

This morning Blue Tit became the first species to visit our new garden feeders, soon joined by Great Tit and Blackbird. Later on, two Red-legged Partridges were noted near Eashing Farm.

Sunday 16th

A belated first visit of the year to Thursley began with a male Tawny Owl hooting in the pre-dawn gloom. The common was shrouded in heavy mist throughout my session, with visibility down to several metres – atmospheric, but not great for birding. Highlights were thus limited, though did include singles of Water Rail and Woodlark, two Skylarks (unseasonal), five Lesser Redpolls and a flock of 40 or more Reed Buntings.



I then walked Royal Common, where the best bits included a flyover Raven and a male Grey Wagtail at the pond. 

Later in the day I explored Peper Harow, another site within 1 km of my new home. It's not a birdy site, with lots of tidy parkland. Four Ring-necked Parakeets were a bit of a surprise, though the habitat is perfect and there have been a handful of reports from here in the past year. One pair were excavating a nest hole by the cricket pitch. Surely full local colonisation is imminent … other bits included two Egyptian Geese and pleasing numbers of Greenfinches.

Ring-necked Parakeet.

Saturday, 15 January 2022

Moving

After five years of living in Farncombe, my girlfriend and I have moved. Not far, but far enough for my immediate birding area to shift – something notable when you bird locally as much as I do. We've moved to Eashing – a small hamlet east of Godalming, situated at the base of a valley on the banks of the River Wey.

Eashing Bridge (via Wikimedia).

So, future 'from home' observations will now refer to here, with a goodbye to Farncombe and my flat window list (ending on a solid 88!). For the first time in years we now have a garden, which presents previously absent birding scope. I've long been envious of friends who can feed and provide nests for birds on their little patch of land, so it'll be great to finally be able to do this myself. And, of course, a garden list goes without saying. I'm looking forward to getting back into noc-mig too, which was never properly feasible at Farncombe.

Perhaps most exciting is the immediate area, which I have started exploring this past week. The Wey can be seen from our bedroom window and from here it flows up to Godalming. This steep valley runs through a broad floodplain and much of it is wooded, with extensive (and impressive) alder carr. There are also areas of tall fen, grassland and standing water. Promising indeed. I've only walked this area a handful of times in my life, so I'm looking forward to giving it greater attention. The other week I was most surprised to learn it's a SSSI – I had no idea previously. 

There are some areas of open countryside in the immediate area too, including a new site right on my doorstep called Eashing Fields – a SANGS site created in 2020 and managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust. This and a large stretch of the river are all within a few hundred metres of my front door and I'm excited at the prospect of having such easy access to the countryside from home – it's an added bonus that it's all unexplored for me. A 1 km radius year list has already commenced!

Further afield, I'm within walking distance of some of my favourite sites and heaps of countryside I've never birded before – hopefully there will be some avian surprises to come.

Friday, 31 December 2021

Stoppage time Smew (and other late goodies)

2021 is done. Despite a rather disappointing 12 months of local birding a couple of surprise finds in the second half of December – both of Russian origin – have provided an uplifting finale to the year, as has a change of avian scenery following a few days in Sussex and a last-gasp Surrey twitch. 2022 begins tomorrow, and so a new birding calendar commences. Bring it on.   

A surprise Surrey Smew on the last day of 2021.

Friday 17th

Another unseasonably mild morning tempted me back to Cranleigh SF, which paid off. A similar number of Chiffchaffs were on the east side and among them was a ghostly pale individual: enough to get the tristis alarm bells going. The bird was highly mobile and never called but responded to brief playback. It was incredibly hard to keep on, let alone photograph (especially in the dull light), but lots of good features were eventually seen: a bold and extensive supercilium with tobacco-coloured ear covers, beige (Garden Warbler-esque) plumage tones, a bright alula, dark legs, silky white underparts etc.




Siberian Chiffchaff.

This is the third December in a row I've found a local Siberian Chiffchaff so I was pleased, especially after a year in which I've been below par in my finding. A brief Firecrest was noted nearby, along with a young male Sparrowhawk. This site is worth checking for sure – Surrey's first Dusky Warbler will fall one day!

Chiffchaff (collybita).

Saturday 18th

A male Kestrel was seen over Farncombe from the kitchen window mid-morning.

Sunday 19th

No birding today.

Monday 20th

Measly wildfowl numbers at Frensham Great Pond first thing included five Pochard and 29 Tufted Duck. A Chiffchaff was heard on the south side, a Water Rail squealed from the south-eastern reedbed and two Firecrests were noted.

Tuesday 21st

I met with Dave at Enton Lakes first thing, where a few decent bits were present among the 38 species recorded. Two each of Little Egret, Kingfisher and Water Rail highlighted, with drake Pochard and Mandarin also of note. Some 50 Siskins flitted through the alders and, despite the chilly easterly, my first drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers of the season were very pleasing to hear.

I then checked Frensham Great Pond, where four drake Shoveler were new in, along with an increase in Aythya that included 17 Pochard. Two Kingfishers were seen but I once again left this site decent waterbird-less, and just as news of a Smew – my most wanted Surrey bird – broke at the London Wetland Centre. 

I had no time to get there before work beckoned but was able to quickly check the fields at Loseley on the way home. Here, some 198 geese included 137 Canadas but nothing rarer, and still no Lapwings.

Loseley geese.

Wednesday 22nd

A lovely, chilly winter morning with blue skies and a sharp frost. With the wind still in the east I did a big local waterbody sweep, but again came up short on both quality and quantity. Some 25 Shoveler at Frensham Great Pond and a Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid at Snowdenham Mill Pond highlighted. I again checked Loseley before heading home, with Greylag numbers sharply up from 52 to 92. Large numbers of Larids included some 115 Common Gulls and a female Kestrel was on roadside wires.

Common Gull.

Thursday 23rd

Four Wigeon greeted me at Frensham Great Pond first thing – only my fifth local record of the year. They were vocal but settled at the south end, where five Shoveler were also present, as well as 11 of the 21 Pochard on site. A Lesser Redpoll flew over too. Afterwards, Frensham Little Pond held three Shoveler and six Pochard. Finally, a drake Gadwall and two Teal were the best from a quick scan of Snowdenham Mill Pond.

Wigeon.

Friday 24th

In the afternoon, on the way down to my parents' house in Felpham, two quick stops were made. The first, on the east side of Pulborough town, produced two Cattle Egrets feeding in a sheep paddock. At the second, at St Mary's Church in Burpham village, distant views of two adult Bewick's Swan were had – a real favourite of mine but one that is sadly vanishing from the British winter landscape. A female Brambling was in a small Chaffinch flock just up the lane as well.

Bewick's Swans.

Saturday 25th

During a couple of quick scans of the sea from my parents' living room there was more than usual about, probably due to the easterly wind. At least nine Red-throated Divers included a few relatively close in, while two each of Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter flew past. A handful of Gannets and Mediterranean Gulls were also about.


Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser pair.

Sunday 26th

An early afternoon wander around Burpham village produced an impressive 10 or more Chiffchaffs at the little sewage treatment works, though I couldn't pick out anything with a hint of tristis about it. A male Sparrowhawk lurked nearby, 18 Lapwings flew north and the two Bewick's Swans were in the same field as Friday.

Bewick's Swan.

On the way back, a Black Swan in a field with some 30 Mutes was a surprise while driving along Ford Road south of Arundel. A quick look at Bilsham farm reservoir produced eight Mediterranean Gulls, four Shoveler, two Teal and 18 Gadwall.

Monday 27th

It was much quieter off Felpham during a brief afternoon seawatch, with five Wigeon, one Red-throated Diver and a single Curlew all heading west the highlights.

Tuesday 28th

An afternoon of birding the Arun Valley with Sam and Matt proved enjoyable, despite the strong westerly wind and frequent rainfall. We started at Waltham Brooks, where the sewage works produced a showy Siberian Chiffchaff (present since 21st) in among five or so collybita. A female Marsh Harrier flew over the brooks too – one of four different birds seen today.

We then headed to the water meadows around Arundel and Burpham, where the Bewick's Swans seemed to have done a bunk, despite checking from both sides of the valley. We did however see six Cattle Egrets east of Mill Road, another female-type Marsh Harrier and a drake Shelduck on temporary floods near Arundel station.

Amberley Wildbrooks was up next – a site I particularly like. We scored 48 species here which wasn't too bad given the conditions. The clear highlight was a ringtail Hen Harrier that was causing mayhem among the masses of waterbirds (at least 350 Lapwing!). At one point it was mobbed by two Kestrels. Given there is only one ringtail wintering in the Arun Valley this year, it seems possible to be the bird I had over Tuesley back in md-November – see here. Other bits included male and female Marsh Harriers, thousands of dabbling ducks (including 100 or more Pintail), five Bullfinches and good numbers of winter thrushes. 

Hen Harrier.

We ended the day back at Waltham Brooks, where we staked out from Greatham Bridge. This produced a surprise Water Pipit in flight – a decent Sussex bird and local rarity. Two Peregrines and a Sparrowhawk shooting through made it seven raptor species for the day before, fittingly, a lovely winter's afternoon in the field concluded with the ringtail Hen Harrier coming into roost in the falling light.

Wednesday 29th

A mild, wet and murky morning offered little inspiration and I nearly didn't head out, but I decided to quickly check the Loseley fields before work, having not been for a week. Despite higher water levels (and thus habitat) along the river following recent rain, goose numbers were still impressive – 169 Canada, 91 Greylags and 15 Egyptian were all decent counts. 

However, to my delight, another goose species was espied on this visit: a lovely adult White-fronted Goose, in with a Greylag group. It was always distant but the smaller size, white blaze, belly barring and pink bill were seen well. This was a nice one to find having kept tabs on the goose flock here during the last couple of weeks; it also served as a welcome and uplifting end to a rather disappointing year of local birding.




White-fronted Goose.

Dave and Joan were able to connect but the bird had apparently vanished by early afternoon. A mini influx of White-fronted Geese has occurred in the South-East again this December (including two vice-county records), though on a much smaller scale than 2020. However, it's still a great rarity locally – this is only the 18th south-west Surrey record. Lovely stuff, and within 1.5 km of my front door to boot.

Thursday 30th

Perhaps unsurprisingly the White-fronted Goose was seen along the Wey water meadows near Unstead yesterday afternoon by Malcolm F, so it seemed likely it'd roost nearby. Sam and I met at Broadwater at first light but, despite an impressive 85 Greylags counted, there was no sign of the Russian visitor. Sam then worked the river and didn't locate it; nor did I at Snowdenham Mill Pond or Loseley. Perhaps a one-day wonder?

Two each of Gadwall and Teal were on the mill pond and a male Sparrowhawk showed well at Loseley, where goose numbers were well down. Nearby two Little Egrets were in their favoured field at Mellersh Farm.

Friday 31st

I was contemplating cracking open the first New Year's Eve beer when Duncan B reported a redhead Smew at Thorpe Park this afternoon. My Surrey kryptonite, and having missed two already this year, I just had enough time to head up before it got too dark and get home in time for the festivities. 

The bird was initially distant on the small fishing pit but eventually showed a bit better, and I was treated to satisfactory views as it foraged in the south-east corner, loosely associating with some Tufted Duck and keeping close to the vegetated shore. Closer views also allowed it to be sexed as a drake, with various male features detected and white feathers moulting through on the upperparts and flanks.





High ISO Smew action.

Two Kingfishers, a Chiffchaff and a Kestrel were also noted. A fine way to end the year – perhaps my favourite species of all finally on my vice-county list (number 228) ...

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Top 10 local moments of 2021

2021. It wasn't great, was it? Most patch-watchers or bird finders I know have mainly bad things to say about this past year, which was blighted by unseasonal weather, poor breeding success (see here) and a dearth of migrants during both spring and autumn. From a personal point of view, I started the year without a plan. South-west Surrey's crazy end to 2020 and various other factors (not least lockdown) had me automatically going for another local year list – although by spring I realised I didn't really want to be chasing numbers. I was jaded. It's been a gradual process, but the last few months have allowed me to revaluate what birding is all about for me.

I don't have a plan for 2022 at the moment. I'll take it as it comes, though I'm sure south-west Surrey will be the stage for the vast majority of my birding. I'm looking forward to another year of local fieldwork and, with luck, being able to properly get away for some overseas birding. I don't think I'll do a south-west Surrey year list post like I did last year, given I pretty much surrendered mid-season, though I may change my mind. For what it's worth, I'm on 153 at the time of writing [23 December] and I suspect I'll end on that. Not bad at all, but if it wasn't for the magic of 2020 (i.e. two certain bunting species) I would have only just scraped 150.

Displaying Goshawk.

What I've decided to do at the end of this year is a rundown of my favourite moments or sessions of 2021. After all, birding is about exactly that – moments, and the everlasting memories they create. Lists are great fun, but they are not what I'll remember in years gone by, nor what provide the momentary wonder that certain encounters with wildlife can. I also feel there's an added layer of thrill when these moments happen close to home and at places that mean something to you.

So, below are my top 10 local moments or sessions of 2021. Even in this rather grim year, there were those brief seconds or minutes of magic. Here's to more next year.


February 23rd

After a long, grey and locked down winter, this felt like the first time there was truly light at the end of the tunnel. With conditions teetering on early spring, a glorious day looking for Goshawks resulted in a sensational performance by a displaying pair. Watching these magnificent, elusive beasts twisting and turning in the fresh blue skies was a truly uplifting and exhilarating moment. I remember feeling completely free, as if I'd been removed from the real world for a short while. Magical stuff!


March 6th

It was cold and grey upon arrival at Tuesley – there was nothing to suggest it wasn't winter. Then, out of nowhere, that electric shock I wait for annually: a hirundine flicking through the skies. Two, in fact, both Sand Martins, providing that rush of blood the first hirundine of the year always does. Spring had begun.


March 12th

A perfect storm at Frensham Great Pond, creating an evocative spectacle. Amid sudden torrential rain a flock of 16 noisy and stunning adult Mediterranean Gulls dropped from the sky, their overland migration interrupted by the weather. Perfect timing on my part, and the conditions only added to the occasion, which you can just about picture in the recording below.


April 4th

Five hours on Thursley Common probably proved to be the most joyous field session of the year. It was warm for the first time – T-shirt weather – and early migrants headlined in glorious sunshine: Cuckoo, Redstart and Tree Pipit, with Willow Warblers and Swallows also noted. Heaps of species were in song, while Curlew and Lapwing displayed over Pudmore. The Little Bunting duo were still about and I enjoyed them all to myself, to a backdrop of birdsong and brightness. I noted no fewer than 62 species in all. A day we wait all winter for – and the reason why spring is simply the best season.


April 26th

Fast forward a few weeks and a freakishly cold April had left me a bit frustrated. I got to Tuesley expecting nothing. A Brent Goose bobbing around on the water completely lifted my spirits; I then went into hyper-excitement mode when I noted a Bar-tailed Godwit on the far shore. Dave and Eric whizzed down and were able to enjoy these local rarities, but the action didn't stop there, as Greenshank and Yellow Wagtail flew over, while Common and Green Sandpipers patrolled the shoreline. You work sites like this all year for something like a Brent or Barwit, so to get two in one morning – with such a fine supporting cast to boot – made this a very special hour or so.


June 3rd

I took a birding hiatus of sorts for a couple of weeks in May for various reasons, partly because I felt jaded after a year plus of hardcore time in the field. On 3 June I took an innocuous stroll around my old haunt at Thorncombe Street and, slowly, the joy of summer revealed itself in a peaceful and almost therapeutic session. Birds were everywhere, many singing or carrying food to hungry youngsters in the warm weather. I didn't observe much of note, but bits like Spotted Flycatcher and Cuckoo were lovely to see and hear after such a cold and wet spring. It was the first time I felt I was properly enjoying birding since that Thursley session in early April but, beyond that, it felt like common species were putting a smile on my face for the first time in even longer.


June 16th

A walk through a remote, Low Weald woodland with life abounding in the lazy midsummer sunshine. Juvenile Hawfinch and Nightingale with attendant parents were fantastic to see – indeed, recently fledged youngsters of many species were seemingly everywhere, and heaps of birds were in full song. Insects zipped about, flowers were in bloom ... The place felt so alive. Among those songsters was a purring Turtle Dove – the perfect icing on the cake. 

Hungry Hawfinch.

July 1st

I was out on Thursley early morning, blissfully alone under warm blue skies. A group of high-flying birds caught my eye over Shrike Hill – to my great surprise they were Shelduck. What an incongruous, but wonderful, sight – so out of context not just over a vast landscape of heath and woodland, but on a warm midsummer's day. They were clearly on a long journey and it made me think about the huge number of migration spectacles such as these that are missed by human eyes.


August 15th

Another example of lucky timing, with a juvenile Marsh Harrier swooping low over the track at Shackleford as soon as I arrived mid-morning. This species is always exciting to see locally and, better still, this was the first I'd encountered down low and 'in habitat'. Despite heavy-handed corvid attention it loitered for a little while before continuing south. If I'd have arrived a few minutes later I'd have never seen it.


September 14th

A confiding juvenile Little Stint made for a morning to remember at Tuesley. Not only was this bird a great local rarity – and easily my bird of the year – it also showed ridiculously well. Being all alone with this waif from the High Arctic was incredibly special. What a distance this bird had come – and to end up here, on my patch, for me to revel in. The places and birds this individual must have encountered during its short life resonated with me – it was free in a way I could only imagine. What luck that our paths crossed.  

My bird of the year.

There were of course many other great moments (and grim ones!) this year, but honorary mentions must go to the numerous balmy summer days watching raptors and woodpecker nests, which are always a privilege.

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Muddling through midwinter

Midwinter is upon us – my least favourite time of year and following an underwhelming 11 months of local birding. Patch efforts have been a little reduced during the first half of December and have rarely produced much of note. However, something I'm writing (see here) has taken me to parts of Surrey I'm not familiar with – and this has provided a refreshing element to an otherwise uninspiring period. On the subject of writing, the 2020 south-west Surrey big year article I wrote in the February edition of Birdwatch is now up on BirdGuides here.

Little Egret at Waterloo Pond.

Wednesday 1st

No observations of note today.

Thursday 2nd

It was bright and chilly at Frensham Great Pond first thing, where a skittish drake Goosander highlighted. Three Shoveler and 15 Pochard, as well as singles of Kingfisher and Firecrest, were also noted.

Kingfisher on a railing.

At lunch I joined Kit, who was seeking Surrey ticks, on a trip to Thorpe Park. A quality suite of wildfowl was on offer here including a drake Ferruginous Duck and female Scaup, both found by Josephine in recent weeks. We got good 'scope views, even though the birds were distant. Apparently the fudge is unringed, which would make it my second in the county (and only my third Scaup!).



Wretched wildfowl shots.

Other bits of note included two drake Goldeneye, a drake Goosander, 45 Pochard, some 220 Tufted Duck, 40 Wigeon and 14 Snipe.

Friday 3rd

No observations of note today.

Saturday 4th

I visited a few more waterbodies in the Blackwater Valley early on, following on from my first recce on 30 November. First up was a very quiet Mytchett Lake; Frimley Pits (the fisheries) were not heaps better afterwards, with difficult viewing, but three Shoveler, four Gadwall and a Kingfisher were of note on Hatches.

I then headed to Ash Ranges, where the flags were down and the sun was out – as well as a stiff north-westerly. The wind kept passerine activity to a premium, with three Dartford Warblers, a Stonechat and a Woodlark the best I could muster during a two-hour, 6.5 km walk. A Raven flew over as well. This vast site is impressive visually – there's absolutely no doubt many good birds are never found here and at Pirbright Ranges (which is even less accessible).

Female Stonechat.

I ended the morning at Lakeside NR, part of Ash Vale Pits, a pleasant but limited site I'd never heard of until recently. A vocal Firecrest was a bit of a surprise and a hunting Kingfisher was of note, but the most pleasing observation was a Carrion Crow carefully revamping a nest.

Saturday 5th

A cold, grey and wet morning checking out some more new Surrey sites, this time in the far east of the county – an area pretty unknown to me. First up was Hedgecourt Lake, an impressive waterbody near East Grinstead (about the furthest away part of Surrey from home) that gets decent birds despite poor coverage. In totally grim conditions the best I managed was 19 Pochard and some friendly Mute Swans.


Mute Swan and Pochard.

Nearby Wire Mill Lake was up next but it was very quiet, save a flyover Lesser Redpoll. Open farmland and a couple of sewage works between here and Oxted seemed interesting enough to tempt me back in the future in better weather. The finale 'eastern' locale was Bay Pond in Godstone, where a Little Grebe was the most notable waterbird.

On the way back, a quick look at Postford and Waterloo Ponds at Chilworth produced three Little Egrets and 23 Mandarin. In all, not a bad way to spend a dull midwinter's morning, seeing new parts of the county and birding as I went.

Little Egrets.

Monday 6th

I walked the Lammas Lands in the morning, where Snipe numbers continued to be incredibly low – nine the maximum count, though it may have been as little as five. Other bits included Little Egret, six Egyptian Geese over, 50 Siskins, 18 Meadow Pipits and two Reed Buntings.

Tuesday 7th

No observations of note today.

Wednesday 8th

I ventured to the water meadows around Unstead and Peasmarsh in the morning, in case Storm Barra had topped up the water levels (it hadn't, and it's still really dry along the Wey this winter). However, a surprise awaited me at the flood at Lower Trunley Heath Farm: five Wigeon


Drake Wigeon.

As mentioned before on this blog this species is rare and localised in south-west Surrey and is most notable in the Wey Valley, especially the further away from Guildford you get (a flock winters at Burpham Court Farm). Amazingly this was my first record along the Wey since 2003. Other bits of note included 12 Teal and a juvenile Mute Swan.

Thursday 9th

Another duo of new Surrey sites this morning: Old Woking and Wisley sewage farms. I'll always enjoy birding sewage farms (sounds grim I know!) due to cutting my ornithological teeth at Unstead in the early 2000s when I was a young boy – there's something I find personally nostalgic about the pungent smells, gentle whirrs of machinery and general quietness of them (lets be honest 'normal' folk don't hang out at sewage farms!).

Anyway, Old Woking is famous for Surrey's only Marsh Sandpiper, found by Jeremy in 1994, during perhaps the last decade in which sewage farms were superb birding sites. Nowadays most are modernised, with the sludge beds and pools drained. I nonetheless found Old Woking to be an impressively large and promising site. Three Teal, singles of Little Owl and Kestrel and two Chiffchaffs highlighted. At Ripley and Wisley sewage farms, which weren't as good, single Chiffchaffs were the best I could muster.

Friday 10th

An early check of Frensham and Cutt Mill didn't produce much, save a Goosander pair and 17 Shoveler at the latter site. On the way home, a Ring-necked Parakeet (one of three) excavating a hole and chasing off a Starling near Shackleford village was very notable – the first proper evidence of parakeet breeding I've witnessed in south-west Surrey. A female Kestrel mobbed a Buzzard nearby.

Saturday 11th

A red sky greeted me at a frosty Thursley Common first thing – my first proper visit to the site in over a month. Some 38 species were noted during a 7 km stroll, the best of which was a Lapwing on Pudmore. Two Water Rails and a Snipe were also present there, while Forked Pond produced a Kingfisher and a flock of 70 or more Siskins. Other bits included a female Kestrel, an unseasonal Skylark and a Mistle Thrush, but passerine numbers on the common – especially finches and pipits – were really quite low.

Red sky at Thursley.

Sunday 12th

I haven't used my WWT membership enough this year so, as I was in London in the afternoon, I headed to the wetland centre at Barnes in the morning. My first visit since I dipped a Little Bittern in June 2016 saw me notch up 56 species, the best of which was a first-winter Caspian Gull that dropped into Main Lake. It was a bit of a mucky 'German-type' (I think it might have been a bird recently at Beddington) but fine for cachinnans and was seen better afterwards by Oscar D who rated it.

Other highlights included a Bittern picked out from a reedbed with the thermal imager (I'm not sure I'd have located it otherwise), a Water Pipit on Grazing Marsh, a female Goldeneye and a Shelduck pair. Adult and first-winter Great Black-backed Gulls, Water Rail and four Cetti's Warblers were also of note, as was a surprise male Blackcap outside the main entrance.





Goldeneye, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Shelduck, Lapwings and Bittern.

Monday 13th

On Saturday Matt E found a Little Bunting at Iping Common near Midhurst – shades of the Thursley occurrences last year. There was no news on Sunday, but I figured it was probably still about so headed down first thing. It was grey and drizzly, but my quarry gave itself up quickly – and how nice it was to spend some time with a species now somewhat special to me, and in a location and habitat so similar to Thursley.

I haven't visited Iping for many years and, despite the weather, the rest of the walk was good fun. A flyover Hawfinch was a treat, while decent numbers of Brambling and Dartford Warbler were seen along with two each of Marsh Tit and Yellowhammer.

Tuesday 14th

No birding today.

Wednesday 15th

A very mild morning – 11°C, seven species in song and winter birds at a premium – for a quiet couple of hours of ringing at Shackleford with Steve. Lots of gulls, including 170 or more Herrings, streamed in from the north to feed in the alfalfa, where a solitary Lapwing was present. A flock of 30 Skylarks and a Stonechat pair were also noted, while four Dunnocks made it into the nets.

On the way home I checked the Stakescorner Road fields at Loseley hoping for Lapwing. There were none, though a calling Little Owl was a relative surprise and decent goose numbers included 86 Greylags. Perhaps there are no wintering Lapwings in the area this winter – grim times indeed.

Thursday 16th

Another mild morning, so I checked out some new sewage farms. While scanning OS maps down the years Cranleigh SF has often caught my attention – it was the best one I visited today and, while access was a bit tricky, it showed potential. An impressive 60 or more Pied Wagtails were on the beds (three Greys also), but better still was at least three Chiffchaffs along the east side. A small flock of Lesser Redpolls, four Bullfinches and Marsh Tit were also of note. 

On the way back I passed Dunsfold Aerodrome, which is the third regular site for wintering Lapwings in south-west Surrey. Nine were seen in their usual field, meaning visits during the last two days to each of the three locales (Shackleford, Loseley and here) produced a grand total of 10 birds …