Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

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Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Slipping into winter

It's been a quiet final week of November, with settled, mild weather never threatening to shake things up. Various forecasts are suggesting a cold snap in December, though – and at the very least some easterlies. So perhaps there will be a bit of end of year excitement to come in 2022.

Mute Swans.

Thursday 24th

Thursley was quiet this morning, with a species total of 35 more befitting a midwinter visit than a late autumn one. Two Lesser Redpolls flew over but passerine numbers were noticeably low. A Water Rail called at Pudmore.

Friday 25th

I walked Enton Lakes this bright, sunny morning. Wildfowl numbers were woeful for late November – a mere four Tufted Duck and 10 Mallards! However, the visit was made worth it by a Cetti's Warbler skulking around Richardson Lake. Dave found this bird – which remains very rare and localised in south-west Surrey – a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully it winters.

Cetti's Warbler.

On the way home, a Lesser Redpoll flew south-east over Eashing Fields. Amazingly this was the first in the Eashing area this year! It brings me to 106 for the 1 km year list. Four Common Gulls and a Sparrowhawk were also seen.

Saturday 26th

Upon arriving at the Lammas Lands this morning I was surprised to immediately hear a Hawfinch. I eventually located the bird, which was calling incessantly from atop a riverside willow near the Godalming United Church – bizarre! It then flew south. Unfortunately, having sparked a Godalming mini twitch, it wasn't seen again. 

Hawfinch.

It's one thing having vis-mig Hawfinches in these out of context locations, as has been the case a few times this autumn, but to have one on the deck was strange indeed. I'm noticing a pattern with 'out of range' south-west Surrey Hawfinches and days of thrush movement – today a late south-westerly push of Redwings (120) and Fieldfares (40) was taking place ...

Other bits out of a decent total of 46 species (just on Catteshall Meadow) included the lingering Peregrine, a Little Egret, a male Sparrowhawk, two Stonechats and two Reed Buntings.

Peregrine.

I walked Busbridge Lakes afterwards, for something a bit different, noting Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail.

Sunday 27th

No birding.

Monday 28th

A peaceful stroll around Frensham Little Pond this morning was fairly quiet, with 40 species noted. Six Little Egrets flew from roost, some 28 Cormorants were counted heading north and a single drake Pochard was on the water.

Frensham Little Pond.

I was pleased to count a minimum of 85 Linnets at Eashing Fields at lunchtime – my biggest flock at this site. 

A Raven flew north over Eashing Bridge late afternoon.

Tuesday 29th

No birding.

Wednesday 30th

No birding.

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Nice weather for ducks

It's been a wet last 10 days, with huge amounts of rainfall in short periods. After the incredibly dry summer, water levels are now well up and with it new, temporary habitat has appeared, especially along the River Wey. Normally such conditions don't occur until late December or January, so it's added a fun dynamic to birding recently, which has for the most part been slow with a creeping sense of midwinter doldrums.

My first local Pintail for nearly three years, with Mallards.

Monday 14th

Caspian Gull and White Wagtail were noted at Istanbul Airport while waiting out a grim delay to my connecting flight on the way back from Azerbaijan.

Tuesday 15th

No birding.

Wednesday 16th

No fewer than three local year ticks appeared while I was away (typical!) and I was hunting some of them down at Thursley late afternoon, under broody skies that threatened rain at any point. A stakeout from the tumulus produced one: the male Hen Harrier that was found by Rosalind on Sunday. Although keeping distant, pleasant views were obtained as it quartered over Ockley, occasionally swooping down (and at one point seen eating something while perched).

Hen Harrier.

Unfortunately there was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike – also found by Rosalind on Sunday and present on Monday as well – but some good company during the stakeout was compensation. A Brambling flew over our watchpoint too, but it was otherwise deathly quiet, save the star attraction.

Thursday 17th

A female Sparrowhawk, a Kingfisher and a drake Pochard were the best I could manage at Enton Lakes this morning.

Great Crested Grebes.

Friday 18th

It was a lovely, sunny start to the day as Dave and I walked Thursley, which on the whole was quiet – neither the harrier or shrike showed and perhaps both have moved on. A male Peregrine over Pylon Pool was the highlight, along with a broad southerly movement of nearly 2,000 Woodpigeons.

A Barn Owl was a nice surprise while driving along Thorncombe Street in the evening. 

Saturday 19th

I undertook an enjoyable stroll along the Wey from Godalming to Shalford this morning, which was greyer and milder than initially forecast. A total of 55 species was OK, with the heavy recent rainfall meaning plenty more waterbirds than normal were dotted along various stretches.

I started at the Lammas Lands, where two Teal and the Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid were on Overgone Meadow. A male Peregrine was seen over both meadows and failed unsuccessfully to take a Feral Pigeon over Catteshall Meadow. Other bits included 15 Snipe and a Chiffchaff.


Peregrine and Red-crested Pochard hybrid.

The north section of Unstead Water Meadows was almost entirely under water and plenty of birds were collected here, including 150 Black-headed Gulls and nearly 100 Canada Geese. Three Wigeon – a drake and two females – were a real surprise in 'Gadwall Gully'. Seemingly the first record here since 2010, Wigeon is rare locally and always good value, this being only my fourth south-west Surrey record of 2022.


Wigeon.

Seven Teal and three each of Little Egret and Snipe were present too. A Carrion Crow taking a fish from the Wey was an odd sight.

The Peasmarsh stretch was quiet, and Shalford Water Meadows was also flattering to deceive with only a Lesser Redpoll and a few Teal noted by the time I got to St Catherine's Pool. Here, however, a true local prize greeted me: a female Pintail, nervously in among a Mallard flock.


Pintail.

My first in south-west Surrey since January 2020, this was a nice reward at the end of a muddy and long walk. Pintail is a properly rare bird in the local area – six that Janet had over Unstead SF yesterday morning were the first in south-west Surrey for more than two years (clearly a few are moving at the moment). Upon chatting to ex-Shalford patch-watcher Matt later on, I learned this was the first documented record for the site since 1963. Mega!

Sunday 20th

A walk around Shackleford this morning was quiet, with Teal, Sparrowhawk and two Stonechats of note.

Monday 21st

No birding.

Tuesday 22nd

No birding.

Wednesday 23rd

A Shoveler pair and six Pochard were the best I could muster at Frensham Great Pond this morning, which was wet and dreary.

Things were livelier at Cutt Mill afterwards with my first Goosander of the second winter period – a drake – on the house pond. There I also counted 44 Mandarin an 16 Shoveler.

Monday, 14 November 2022

Azerbaijan: 9-13 November 2022

I've spent the last five days in southern and eastern Azerbaijan, being lucky enough to join a press trip put on by the Azerbaijan Tourism Board. Despite the short length of the visit, the time of year and the fact there was a fair bit of work/non-birding activities going on, I managed a tidy 161 species (eBird trip report here). There's no doubt that this eastern extremity of the Western Palearctic is a top-tier birding destination.

Western Rock Nuthatch.

The clear highlight was Caspian Tit, which was the main target of the trip. This near-mythical species was 'rediscovered' in the Talysh Mountains near the Iranian border in 2017 and an epic, muddy hike eventually resulted in decent views amid spectacular scenery.


Caspian Tit is found in the beautiful Talysh Mountains.

There were plenty of other bits to be enjoyed, with standout rarities including Sociable Lapwing, Steppe Gull and Isabelline Shrike. Azeri specialities included White-tailed Lapwings and Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit, while unexpected Mountain Chiffchaff and Red-fronted Serin were lifers for me. 

Throw in a few more goodies (Alpine Accentors, Western Rock Nuthatches, Black Francolins, three-figure counts of Marbled and White-headed Duck etc), a day of spectacular migration at Besh Barmag (including nearly 800 Little Bustards) and some wonderful company and food, then a recipe for a thoroughly enjoyable few days was complete.

A few photos are below. I'll write a full feature in an upcoming edition of Birdwatch.

Little Bustards.

Alpine Accentor.

Black Francolin.

Syrian Woodpecker.

Isabelline Shrike.

Whiskered Tern.

Mountain (Caucasian) Chiffchaff.

Long-legged Buzzard.

Bearded Tit.

Marbled Duck.

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Waiting for windows

Lengthy periods of quiet, interspersed with short, exciting windows of action, has been a marked theme of birding in 2022. And this past week has been a microcosm of that – for the most part, dull, damp and mild, but a day of blasting north-westerlies on Friday opened a brief period of migration and movement. Hopefully some more typical late autumn and winter weather makes an appearance soon. 

Black Redstart.

Tuesday 1st

Five Gadwall were the best I could manage at a quiet Snowdenham Mill Pond this morning. On the way home, a Red-legged Partridge was seen along New Pond Road, Loseley.

Wednesday 2nd

A bright, fresh morning meant a wander around Shackleford was enjoyable, with a constant – albeit light – southerly passage of Woodpigeons underway. The two Black Redstarts were at the south end – surely confirming them as the same ones first found on 22nd (and meaning the bird Joe and I had last Friday was probably not new). I got good enough views to confirm one as a first-winter male.



Black Redstart.

Other bits included a single Yellowhammer, eight Reed Buntings, Lesser Redpoll, 50 or more Skylarks and some 100 Meadow Pipits.

Thursday 3rd

No birding.

Friday 4th

Finally, a switch in wind direction, and with it a tidy couple of hours at Thursley where 51 species represented a fine November innings. Woodpigeons were on the move and, in an hour of vis-migging from Shrike Hill, I managed some 3,760 birds going south. Other bits heading in that direction included the third site Yellowhammer of the year and 10 Lesser Redpolls.


Woodpigeons and Canada Geese.

Redwings were moving west on the continental line with 500 tallied, along with two Bramblings, four Skylarks and 70 Starlings. The highlight of the watch came at 07:40, when a Merlin dashed low north to the west of my viewpoint. The bird, I suspect a young male, offered good views before it disappeared over West Bog. Cold north-westerlies often feel good for Merlin and I was very pleased with this – the first in south-west Surrey this year and my first locally since October 2020.


It was quieter on the deck, with two Water Rails and a Kingfisher at Pudmore.

The view from Ockley Common.

Saturday 5th

A drizzly but thoroughly enjoyable wander across the Lammas Lands this morning, yielding no fewer than 52 species. In rarity terms the clear highlight was a Hawfinch bounding north-east over Overgone Meadow – presumably a site first and yet another unexpected record of this species in the Godalming area this autumn. Overgone also produced a first-winter Dartford Warbler (likely a bird that was found by Peter last weekend) and, bizarrely, one of the local Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrids.

Water levels and thus Snipe numbers were up on both meadows, with six flushed on Overgone, along with a surprise Woodcock – a first for me on the Lammas Lands. A minimum of 24 Snipe were then tallied on Catteshall Meadow and I was a touch disappointed not to score a Jack. Still, promising ahead of the winter. 

Other bits included some decent vis-mig between the showers, featuring 600 or more Redwings, 100 Starlings and a Skylark west and 700 Woodpigeons south. Three Lesser Redpolls, Kingfisher, six Reed Buntings and two Stonechats were also seen.

Unstead Water Meadows were much quieter, as they often seem to be, though two Little Egrets, 13 Snipe and a Ring-necked Parakeet were of note.

Little Egrets.

Sunday 6th

No birding.

Monday 7th

Another mild and drizzly morning after a couple of days of heavy rainfall. At Enton Lakes, a Shoveler pair were in the south-west corner – a site first for me. Kingfisher and Chiffchaff were also noted, but Aythya numbers were very low for November.

I then checked Frensham Great Pond, where a single female Pochard was asleep off the hotel. The wintering drake Tufted Duck x Pochard was also present, along with a Marsh Tit calling near the outlet pond.

Tuesday 8th

No birding.

Monday, 31 October 2022

Meek and mild

A freakishly mild period has brought October to a close, continuing the long, balmy year we're experiencing. Temperatures and conditions have at times been akin to late August – you can't help but feel slightly perturbed by T-shirt weather, pub gardens, regular butterfly sightings and a national Pallid Swift influx when November is round the corner ... Unsurprisingly the birding has been slow, with autumn feeling like it may not truly appear this year.

Black Redstart.

Saturday 22nd

An enjoyable morning walk amid splendid autumnal scenery at the Devil's Punch Bowl. My main target was Ring Ouzel and I eventually achieved this with a fleeting first-winter in rowans near the café. Annoyingly it flew west with Blackbird and Redwing amigos and wasn't seen again. 

Redwings were everywhere – at least 520 moved south-west and there was a similar number of grounded birds. More than 50 Fieldfares and some 25 Blackbirds – including a few continental types – made for a 'thrushy' morning indeed.

No fewer than nine finch species included a south-westerly push of 100 or more Chaffinches, but the highlight was three Hawfinches: two east over my Sugar Loaf Hill vis-mig watchpoint and another north-east over the café (by which point I was armed with a deserved Flat White).

Two Bramblings and a Lesser Redpoll were also logged, and other bits included six Marsh Tits, two Sparrowhawks and a Firecrest.

Sunday 23rd

A morning check of a few waterbodies was a washout, but with the rain easing off for a brief period I walked Shackleford. Peter had found two Black Redstarts here yesterday and both were still present, showing well by the hay barn – the exact same spot I had two on 29 March.


Black Redstarts.

It was otherwise quiet, though three Lesser Redpolls in a Goldfinch flock at Cuckoo Corner were my first at the Love Shack this year.

The sun was out by midday and an early afternoon stroll around Painshill Farm, Dunsfold, was pleasant, with two each of Yellowhammer and Raven, three Sparrowhawks (including a displaying male) and a calling Little Owl highlighting.

Monday 24th

No birding.

Tuesday 25th

A clear and still morning circuit of Frensham Little Pond was fairly quiet, although a flyover Yellowhammer was a surprise – it's a sad state of affairs that this former Frensham breeder is now notable here. I later found out from Shaun that it was in fact the first record since 2015 ... 

A drake Pochard and at least five noisy Water Rails were also noted, along with a calling Firecrest near the sluice.

Pochard.

Wednesday 26th

It was no surprise that Thursley was very quiet in this morning's mild, blustery southerly, so a Hawfinch over the tumulus was most unexpected – only the third site record since the Millennium. The last couple of weeks have been a bumper period for the species locally. A Greenfinch over Shrike Hill was notable as well.

Thursday 27th

No birding.

Friday 28th

I walked the river from Godalming to Unstead this morning, which was unseasonably mild. 57 species was a tidy innings, but quality levels were somewhat low: two female Teal, six Snipe and a Lesser Redpoll highlighted on the Lammas Lands, while Unstead Water Meadows held Skylark, Blackcap, Water Rail, Kingfisher, 40 Siskins and 12 Snipe.

I met up with Joe H afterwards and a breezy stroll around Shackleford was livened up by a female-type Black Redstart near the hay barn. The two from the weekend haven't been seen since Sunday (despite people looking) so you'd fancy this to be a new bird …


Black Redstart.

Two Peregrines – an adult and a juvenile, perhaps both females – had a bit of a scrap and afforded great views while doing so. Some 140 Goldfinches and three Stonechats were also seen.

Saturday 29th

It was another oddly mild morning at Winkworth Arboretum, which was was looking resplendent as it always does at this time of year. Some familiar species were on offer, including three Firecrests between the boat house and Badger's Bowl, a Kingfisher at Rowe's Flashe and a Marsh Tit pair – the male in full song, befitting the spring-like conditions – at Phillimore. Other bits included Lesser Redpoll and Mandarin.


Firecrest.

A quick check of Snowdenham Mill Pond afterwards produced five Gadwall and a Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid.


Gadwall and Red-crested Pochard x Mallard.

Sunday 30th

No birding.

Monday 31st

No birding.

Friday, 21 October 2022

The never-ending summer

Without wanting to sound like I'm repeating myself, another fairly quiet 10 days has come to a close. It's become another westerly autumn – never ideal for the South-East patch-birder. Another theme of this autumn is how nice the weather has been; birding under warm, blue skies in shorts and t-shirt has been the norm for much of this October. That said, a few easterlies made it through in the last few days and vis-mig has finally kicked off as a result.

Peregrine in sunny conditions, typical of the last 10 days.

Wednesday 12th

Only the second Thursley Common Marsh Tit of the year, calling at Top Corner, was the highlight of a quiet walk this morning. Two Ravens were knocking about, a couple of Redwing flocks passed over and an impressive 500 or so Canada and Greylag Geese were in the Pudmore roost.


Reed Bunting and Canada Geese.


Another glorious day meant I was having lunch on the porch when, to my disbelief, a Great Crested Grebe flew over! A totally madcap sight to behold, there was no mistaking what it was and it goes down as my most unlikely garden record to date – and one of my craziest in the Eashing area as well.

Thursday 13th

No birding.

Friday 14th

A morning walk along the Wey was quiet, with a female Teal and six Stonechats at the Lammas Lands and a Firecrest in Milton Wood the best I could manage. A few small groups of Siskin were back at usual winter haunts along various stretches of the river too.

Male Stonechat.

Saturday 15th

No birding.

Sunday 16th

Milford and Witley Commons were very quiet this morning, with a flyover Lesser Redpoll the most notable observation. Singles of Dartford Warbler, Reed Bunting and Kestrel were also seen.

Monday 17th

It was warm and sunny when I took a late afternoon walk to Eashing Farm – not at all feeling like the second half of October. I was already leaving satisfied with a bumper flock of 46 Collared Doves, but was treated further thanks to awesome views of a male Peregrine as it unsuccessfully tried to take out one of the doves.


Peregrine and (29 of the 46) Collared Doves.

Only my 10th record in south-west Surrey this year, I wonder if the bird is the same as an individual I had three sightings of in the Eashing area during the first winter period? 

Tuesday 18th

No birding.

Wednesday 19th

Finally some proper easterlies and, with a big overnight departure of thrushes in the Low Countries, I was optimistic when I got to Thursley at first light. The following four hours were decent indeed – certainly in the context of the last few weeks – but were not vintage. The headline act was a south-westerly Redwing passage that totalled 1,060, with some large flocks involved. Among one smaller group was my first Ring Ouzel of the year, which bombed south over Shrike Hill.

Redwing.

Other vis-mig highlights included 42 Fieldfares (my first of the autumn), a handful of Song Thrushes, 100 or more Chaffinches, 15 Siskins, 10 Lesser Redpolls, six Skylarks, 25 Starlings, 400 Woodpigeons and a Brambling. Some 37 Cormorants moved east too, including flocks of 16 and 11 – potentially a new Thursley high count.

Cormorants.

It was quiet on the deck, though six Teal and two each of Snipe and Water Rail were at Pudmore.

Two Bramblings were at Eashing Fields at lunchtime, rather unusually giving their yeck call.

Thursday 20th

A drizzly, murky morning smacked of water bodies so I did a local circuit. Six Pochard – two adult drakes, three females and a first-winter drake – were quite the surprise at Tuesley, where the two dodgy female Goldeneye were also about. A veritable wildfowl-fest for these parts ...

Five Pochard were at Enton too, presumably part of the flock back in the area for the winter. Duck numbers were otherwise low, however. I thought Frensham might deliver the big prize afterwards, but it was disappointingly quiet.

Pochard.

The rain had eased off by the time I was heading back, so I took the opportunity to do a vis-mig at Eashing Fields. It wasn't too bad, either, with 450 Redwings and 11 Fieldfares counted in less than an hour. Most were heading south-east, though there were birds moving in all directions. 

The highlight however was a surprise Hawfinch bounding low south, calling with frequency. I didn't think I'd see this species at all in my 1km this year, so to have two records in the space of a couple of weeks is fantastic (and shows how vis-mig can yield results anywhere).

It was sunny and warm again by late afternoon, when a walk around the Lammas Lands produced two Snipe, three Stonechats and a flyover Lesser Redpoll at Overgone Meadow.

Friday 21st

A slightly later start this morning, but a brilliant hour and a half of vis-mig from Eashing Fields produced a remarkable three 1km ticks – and a south-west Surrey year tick! The cloudy, breezy conditions with occasional squally showers meant thrush passage was detectable, and I tallied 1,450 Redwings by the end of the session. Fieldfare totalled 33, with a few smaller groups of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes also moving.


Redwings and Fieldfares.

At 09:20 I heard a Woodlark, and eventually picked the bird up as it headed low east. I managed a crappy recording. Peter had one at the 'A3 Fields' in 1999 and David K had a spate of records at Peper Harow in the early 2000s – as far as I can tell this is the first Eashing area Woodlark since.

Not long after, three Mute Swans flew north-west – another new species for my Eashing area list! This had become a classic watch, with other bits on the move including a single southbound Swallow, a light easterly passage of Goldfinches and two Bramblings south-west.

Mute Swans.

With particularly dark clouds rolling in from the south I was ready to head back. However, a quick scan to the north revealed a small skein of geese – and upon getting my bins on them it was clear they were Brent Geese. The group were tight and moving quickly, seemingly tracking the Wey west-south-west. 


Brent Geese.

What a mega sighting – wild geese on migration all the way from Russia, and I'd been lucky enough to see a tiny leg of their journey only a couple of hundred metres from my front door. This will surely be my best 1 km record of the year.

Patch birding and vis-mig are wonderful in their own rights but make a truly magical combination. I've been lucky to enjoy both in rejuvenated fashion since moving this year.

Stonechat.