Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 31 July 2023

A different July

Every year is different in birding. Last July saw record-breaking temperatures and drought; July 2023 has been defined by temperamental westerlies, often bringing light showers, cloud and cool nights. These conditions have been the theme of the final week of the month, too, meaning that, while field sessions have been by no means dull, there has been a continued steadiness to proceedings.

Marsh Tit.

Tuesday 25th

Still and clear mornings have been rare this month, but today such conditions combined to leave a light mist hanging in the air, with heavy dew underfoot. They were lovely early autumn conditions for a walk along the Wey, which began on the Lammas Lands. It was quiet, save a pair of Reed Buntings (going for a late brood?) on Overgone Meadow, a few juvenile Whitethroats dotted about and a flock of 25 Stock Doves north-east.

Overgone Meadow.

Along the Eashing stretch, a Raven cronking overhead was my first in the 1-km since April, a juvenile Garden Warbler was welcome confirmation of breeding success, four Bullfinches were counted and 21 Herring Gulls lumbered south-east.

After work, I joined Jeremy to ring a Spotted Flycatcher nest on private land near Elstead. A pair had nested in a garage and had three young inside, all of which were ringed. It's reassuring to know that there are still sites like this where Spotted Flycatchers can nest close to human habitation, like they have done for years …

Four Greylag Geese over the garden at dusk were notable, with the species uncommon in the Eashing area and, like Raven earlier today, not recorded since April.

Wednesday 26th

Another still and clear morning, this time with the wind from the south-west, made for an enjoyable few hours in the field before work – one of those late July days where it feels good, but expectancy levels aren't high. I walked Shackleford for the first time in a couple of weeks and it was bustling with birds; 46 species in all, a great total for the time of year. 

The pick of the bunch was a juvenile Sedge Warbler that proved rather mobile, though did show well intermittently. A sure sign of changing seasons. Seed eaters were already flocked up, too, with four Reed Buntings among 50 or so each of Linnet and Goldfinch. The Stonechat family (two adults and a juvenile) were still on site, along with excellent numbers of Whitethroat (at least 16). 

Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Stonechat, Reed Bunting and Linnet.

Other bits included Little Owl, Red-legged Partridge and Raven, and the walk ended with an early Tree Pipit bombing south-west, boosting the sense that autumn was properly up and running now. A thoroughly pleasing session.


Buoyed by this liveliness, I popped into Eashing Fields on the way home. This proved a good move as, in the north-west corner of The Meadow, a bird flushed from an area of long grass and thistles – and gave off more than a faint whiff of gropper.

I staked it out and, eventually, some half an hour later, I'd managed three or four brief views – but enough to confirm the bird as a Grasshopper Warbler. A yellowish-buff tone to the underparts suggested it was a first-year individual. Tidy.

The gropper area.

Only my second Eashing area tick of the year (number 114), this was a site first, but it's a bird that's been on my Eashing Fields radar since I started watching the site – I'm sure gropper moves through here annually as the habitat is perfect. The last record in the 1-km was long before my time, in May 1986 along the Wey!

Thursday 27th

After a rainy night, it was grey and breezy this morning, with some occasional light showers. A short stakeout at Tuesley was quiet – 50 Swifts south included a flock of 27 and the two Common Sandpipers were still about. 

Afterwards I checked Frensham Great Pond, where the highlight was some 80 Sand Martins swirling around in the drizzle.

I walked Eashing Fields late morning. A high count of 23 Mistle Thrushes included a single flock of 14 and a curious southerly passage of Starlings – presumably on a local level – involved more than 70 birds.

Friday 28th

It was cloudy but still today, creating a rather muggy feeling to my visit to Thursley Common. Pleasingly the Curlew family were present and correct on West Bog, with the chicks looking well-developed and one even performing a short flight. It won't be long until the fledge and, I dare say, they look safe from predators now.

Juvenile Curlew.

Otherwise it was quiet, with a juvenile Teal and a Water Rail at Pudmore and family parties of Redstart and Tree Pipit noted.

Later in the morning I wandered along the river in Eashing, encountering my first proper mixed flock of the autumn. Among them were at least two Marsh Tits – an adult and a juvenile. It's fantastic that this species still breeds so close to Godalming, though it's rather an isolated population …

Marsh Tit.

A Garden Warbler was also espied in the busy group, which was briefly up in arms when a male Sparrowhawk ghosted through.

Saturday 29th

No birding.

Sunday 30th

A bright, fresh morning with an increasing south-westerly breeze began at the southern end of my old Thorncombe Street patch, around the New Barn area – a particularly favoured former haunt. 

New Barn.

Things were generally quiet, but a mobile feeding flock included nearly 20 Chiffchaffs and a single Garden Warbler. Firecrest and Marsh Tit were heard in Scotsland Brook and two noisy juvenile Buzzards were at Nore Hanger, too.

When looking through my notes later I realised that, curiously, my last visit to the New Barn area was on 30 July 2022. A strange coincidence given I so rarely bird here these days; presumably there were some subconscious workings that led me to the site at this time of year …

I checked Snowdenham Mill Pond on the way home. I was pleased to see a female Tufted Duck with six small ducklings – I'd been wondering if the species wouldn't breed here this year. Two pairs of Gadwall, 14 Mandarin, the Mallard x Red-crested Pochard hybrid and the Mute Swan family were noted as well.


Monday 31st

The month ended as it began – grey and breezy, with light squally showers. What an odd July this has been … The southerly wind was really quite strong at Tuesley Farm, which seemed quiet, with virtually all the Black-headed Gulls having cleared out. The two Common Sandpipers were still in situ and a very light trickle of southbound Sand Martins was detectable.

A moment of migration magic lit up proceedings not long after 6.30 am – a wonderful flock of 13 Whimbrel heading high south. The birds clearly had no intention of stopping on what was presumably a mammoth migration leg, as they flew silently and determinedly into the wind.


Local birding doesn't get much better than catching snatches of migration like this. Only my fourth autumn record of Whimbrel in south-west Surrey, it comes on a similar date to the only larger count I've had, which was 20 over Thorncombe Street on 2 August 2017 … 

Monday, 24 July 2023

Incessantly westerly

In a year that's shaping up to be defined by strange, contrasting periods of weather, July 2023 will likely be remembered for an incessant westerly airflow. While rainfall hasn't been especially heavy, most of the last 11 days have included some periods of showers and virtually all have featured breezy winds. Such weather is usually good for waders and Swift movement at this time of year – and that's been the case of late, with a pleasant little run of both in south-west Surrey – but they aren't particularly inspiring conditions for much else.


Tuesday 11th

Ray B had a Great Egret on the deck at Broadwater Lake on Sunday, a fine and thoroughly gripping record, and despite there being no sign yesterday per others, I had a quick look this morning. Of course, it wasn't there, but two Common Terns marked a site tick for me and a decent count of 11 Great Crested Grebes included four young juveniles.

The day was blustery and grey, with the odd passing shower. I checked Tuesley after work and was rewarded with two smart Dunlin, still largely in breeding attire. Always a fine bird to see in south-west Surrey, I haven't had any actually on the deck since May 2021.


My first Common Sandpiper of the autumn was present too, for good measure. 

Wednesday 12th

No birding.

Thursday 13th

Again it was a breezy, rather grey day, so I undertook a sky-watch at Eashing Fields around midday. Swifts were on the move – 168 south-west in total, with noticeable pushes of birds ahead of the lowest and darkest bands of clouds. A few hirundines were heading the same way, with 27 House Martins and six Sand Martins tallied up. It's been a great year for the latter species in the 1-km and I suspect these birds were on a genuine migration leg today.


A Hobby also shot through, flying right over my head as six Red Arrows performed their display flights to the east, in a brief, brilliant moment of simultaneous aerodynamics.

Friday 14th

No birding.

Saturday 15th

A light and silent southern passage of Swifts moved over the garden at the end of an incredibly windy, squally day, with a Lesser Black-backed Gull heading the opposite way.

Sunday 16th

Yesterday's breezy westerly was still in situ this morning, but it was bright. Three sleepy Redshank at Tuesley were a lovely sight – my highest count locally. It was great to see that one of them was a juvenile, presumably with its two parents. As with many birds that pass through south-west Surrey, I'd love to know what journey they were on … four Common Sandpipers were also present.

Redshank and Common Sandpipers.

I visited Winkworth Arboretum next, one of my old stomping grounds, for my first visit of the year. It was a seriously quiet session, not least due to the noticeable lack of waterbirds on Rowe's Flashe. I can only presume the removal of an area of buoys, which used to hold nesting Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Coot, is why …

Rowe's Flashe, Winkworth Arboretum.

A check of Snowdenham Mill Pond afterwards produced the female Mallard x Red-crested Pochard hybrid, 18 Mandarin and a male Sparrowhawk.

Monday 17th

No birding.

Tuesday 18th

Another Redshank was at Tuesley this morning, which was the stillest it's been for days. A sprightly summer-plumage adult, it was accompanied by two Common Sandpipers. A flyover Little Ringed Plover was also heard.

Best of all, though, was a cracking adult Mediterranean Gull in full breeding attire. Sat on a buoy, it somehow disappeared into thin air before I could get a photo … four new juvenile Common Terns were also present, likely from the second nest at adjacent Enton Lakes. Not a bad little session.

Common Terns.

Wednesday 19th

It was overcast this morning and Thursley Common was inevitably quiet. That said, two smart juvenile Little Ringed Plovers were on Pudmore, continuing the run of local records of the species. Dave had three here last night and we think they're wandering over from Tice's Meadow …

Little Ringed Plovers.

Other bits included three juvenile Teal and nice views of a male Redstart, which I made sure to enjoy, as it won't be long until birds looking this smart are gone for another year.

Later in the morning and impressive post-breeding flock of 21 Mistle Thrushes flew over Lower Eashing.

Thursday 20th

The Devil's Punch Bowl was cool and dewy this morning, with a heavy sense of post-breeding quiet. I saw little of note, though four Cormorants south-west were a site first for me, according to eBird.

Devil's Punch Bowl.

Tuesley was lively again this evening, with an emergence of flying ants drawing in more than 100 Black-headed Gulls. A fetching juvenile Mediterranean Gull was among them – one of the best Larid plumages for sure.

Mediterranean Gull.

Another Dunlin was present, too, associating with a juvenile Common Sandpiper. Generally, encounters with this species are far more enjoyable in the autumn, when they actually pause for a little while ...

Dunlin and Common Sandpiper.

No fewer than 12 Common Terns were tallied up as well, a result of the excellent breeding season at next-door Enton Lakes.

Friday 21st

A steady morning session on the Lammas Lands was livened up by the appearance of a Hobby over Catteshall Meadow. It seemingly had all of Farncombe's Swift population in the air – more than 100 birds, pleasingly, although this was minus one individual when it was taken by the falcon. 


Bar a singing male and a female on Overgone Meadow, Reed Buntings were conspicuous by their absence – presumably most have now dispersed post-breeding.

Saturday 22nd

A peaceful walk around The Hurtwood this morning, under patchy cloud with a light breeze blowing, was quiet, though it did produce two Siskins and singles of Spotted Flycatcher, Firecrest and Willow Warbler. A Muntjac showed well too.

Before heading home I walked Eashing Fields, where a juvenile Reed Bunting was skulking along the hedgerow between The Meadow and Top Field. This was my first here since 24 January and reaffirmed my thoughts yesterday about this species.

Reed Bunting.

Sunday 23rd

No birding.

Monday 24th

No birding.

Monday, 10 July 2023

Subtle shifting

I quite enjoy July. The first subtle hints of seasonal change can be detected as each day passes, and the transitional shift between summer's abundance of breeding birds and autumn's migration makes it a pleasant time to be outdoors. The first 10 days of July 2023 have been rather cool, too – a welcome change from last year's drought, even if it's not been vintage summer weather.

Curlew chick.

Saturday 1st

July began grey and breezy, with the westerly wind of the last few days still in situ. Upon my arrival at Thursley Common a Green Sandpiper flushed from Pudmore suited the somewhat autumnal mood. This sense of seasonal shift was tempered a little during my walk, though, with plenty of breeding evidence, including recently fledged Redstarts, Tree Pipits and Stonechats.

Stonechat and Tree Pipit.

Unsurprisingly, Swifts were on the move again, and a vigil from Shrike Hill produced 106 heading west. Less expected on the vis-mig front was a Little Ringed Plover – a scarce bird here. It appeared over Pudmore, calling lots, before bombing south-east over Pylon Pool and away. Teal and Water Rail were also logged at Pudmore.

Little Ringed Plover.

The highlight of the session came towards the end. One of the adult Curlews had been calling all morning and, eventually, I was able to locate the male with three small chicks out on West Bog. I sat patiently and they eventually came close, affording awesome views. The adult was in constant communication, with the youngsters foraging away happily.

Curlew family.

Encounters with young Curlews out here are rare and usually distant, so this was special. It also marks a rare instance of successive breeding years out here for this iconic local species. 

Firecrest and Willow Warbler were heard singing at Hydon's Ball during a mid-afternoon walk.

Sunday 2nd

No birding.

Monday 3rd

No birding.

Tuesday 4th

Another cool, breezy morning saw me check a few waterbodies. I started at Pudmore, Thursley Common, where I was most surprised to put up a noisy Oystercatcher. It flew to the other end of the bog and settled, but not for long, and soon departed north, shrieking as it went. Oyc is a genuine site rarity here, with this only the sixth record …


I then checked Tuesley, which was quiet. It was pleasing to see several Black-headed Gull juveniles off the nest. Breeding here has been late in 2023, but thankfully the dreaded bird flu has avoided the site so far …

I finished off at Snowdenham Mill Pond. The Mute Swan family were still present, though minus one cygnet. Kingfisher, 22 Mandarin and a Firecrest were also logged.

Wednesday 5th

It was a typically steady summer session at Shackleford this morning, though a Little Egret west was good value – only my third site record. A Little Owl also showed. A Polecat/Ferret roadkill was a surprise along Puttenham Lane, too; I've only seen a handful in south-west Surrey and never this close to Godalming.

Little Owl and Little Egret.

With the westerly breeze still fixed in, a few Swifts were noted powering west over Eashing Fields during a half-hour lunchtime watch, with 71 totted up. A Hobby – a good 1-km bird – and double-figures of House Martin were in tow as well.


Thursday 6th

Following a notably cool night, it was dewy and a little misty this morning, and Tuesley Farm gave off more than a faint whiff of autumn, not least due to the presence of a Redshank. Still in full breeding regalia, this species is a true early July classic in south-west Surrey and is really quite rare outside of this timeframe.


It was foraging happily but alert and skittish. One of the many beauties of local birding is the contextualisation of what's rare. On the coast, I wouldn't bat an eyelid at a Redshank, but here it's special – and what a cracking wader it is. One of Britain's most unappreciated birds I’d say.

A surprise flock of 12 Sand Martins moving east was another seasonal indicator. Summer has felt rather brief this year ...

I checked Eashing Farm on the way home. Another goodie was to be found here, on the little reservoir: two pairs of Tufted Duck! This is a genuine Eashing area mega, with only two previously documented records, one of which was a seriously gripping flyover Mark L had at Eashing Fields in April. Four juvenile Mandarin were also on the water.

Tufted Duck.

Friday 7th

It was warm enough to work outside today and five Sand Martins south late morning were an unexpected garden tick, not least due to their scarcity in the Eashing area.

Saturday 8th

It was muggy this morning, after a night of thunderstorms. I had time for a quick check of Tuesley, where a Little Ringed Plover was pottering about. It eventually flew off south and likely was the same bird Dave had at Thursley some 20 minutes later.

Little Ringed Plover.

Four Common Terns were also present, with two of them juveniles. This species has enjoyed a fine breeding season at next-door Enton Lakes, where three pairs have bred.

Common Tern.

Sunday 9th

Another rather muggy, grey morning, this time at Unstead SF where a relatively flying visit produced 45 species. Among them was a singing female Water Rail in Dry Lagoon – a nice breeding season record. A Raven and seven Sand Martins flew south and a female Gadwall was on South Meadow.


Monday 10th

A male Stonechat at Eashing Fields during a quick, warm and breezy lunchtime walk was the first here – or anywhere in the 1-km – since 23 March. My first Painted Lady of the year flew through as well.