Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

29th November

I awoke to a sharp frost this morning. Temperatures had hit minus 5 overnight but, like yesterday, the sky was blue and the wind calm. It felt like proper, midwinter, and the first stop was the patch, which was due a thorough check. Inspired by recent, local wildfowl records, I stopped to scan Mill Pond first. The northern end was frozen, but the rest of the water was rammed with Ducks and Geese, notably Canada Geese, of which 23 was the second highest count of the year. This species is infrequent on Mill Pond, and they were joined by 4 Greylags.

The female Red-crested Pochard on Mill Pond this morning
The number of Teal has been rising steadily these past few weeks, and today's count of (at least) 41 was the highest of this winter so far. A few drakes were displaying, and beyond them were several Shoveler, a largely sleeping flock of 15+ Tufted Ducks and probably over 60 Mallards. The number of ducks lead me to retrieve my telescope from the boot, and give the water a quick scan. As I did so, a pair of Gadwall revealed themselves before, much to my surprise, as did a female Red-crested Pochard. They are exceptionally rare here (my November 13th blog post goes into much more detail) and this bird was surely the same one that I found on Bramley Park Lake on the aforementioned date a couple of weeks ago. Presumably she has stayed local since the 13th, and her typically shy behaviour this morning demonstrated perhaps why I haven't noted her in my intervening visits.

The new path leading to the Ridge
She seemed to prefer the vegetated sides of the lake, and her journey from one to another across the open water was quick, before she was easily lost in the trees and roots. The habitat on Mill Pond actually looks decent for Red-crested Pochard, so perhaps she will stick. There are a handful of off-limits, private ponds between here and Bramley Park Lake, and I wouldn't be surprised if she's spent much of her time there. Continuing to Winkworth, in search of another rare duck, was fruitless - it was dead there, and so I decided to climb up the Ridge. A new footpath has been constructed along the Slade's/Rowe Barn Farm boundary, offering slightly obscured views of the former. It's somewhat of a shame, but I have to say the viewing isn't anywhere as limited as I was worried it was going to become. 

The light on the Ridge was brilliant, and a large party of Linnets chattered and wheezed on the southern facing crop. A few Reed Buntings and a single Brambling where also of note here, and 3 Common Gulls flew south. Numbers of these will rise as winter goes on. I still await a Woodcock on the patch this year - now is optimum time, and a search solely for this species in Leg-of-Mutton Copse on the 25th didn't produce the goods (a couple of Crossbill was a nice record though, only the 3rd of the year). As I headed back down, about 10 rather unseasonal Meadow Pipits dropped in, but in general it was rather quiet, so it was onto Frensham Great Pond where I had a target bird to try and locate.

The Frensham Long-tailed Duck
On Sunday remarkable news of an immature Long-tailed Duck, found by Frensham stalwart patch-watcher Shaun Peters, had emerged, and the bird proved popular that day. I had work preventing me from going, as well as a distinct lack of enthusiasm for county listing these days However, given the scarcity of this bird in Surrey, the closeness of it to home and the fact it's a duck, lead me to ambitiously try a pre-dawn trip before work on Monday. A dead Guillemot, even more of a surprise than the duck, had been seen by David Campbell the day before, but before the sun came up I had to settle for poor views of the Long-tailed from the hotel, as well as a drake Goosander, before heading off to work. It was there that I learnt about a redhead Smew at the same site - I was gutted I'd missed it, but with today off I was up for trying to relocate it, a decision not too tough to make given the species position as my favourite bird.
Wisely remaining hidden

Alas, I couldn't find the Smew today, nor the Goosander, but the Long-tailed Duck performed very well indeed, my girlfriend and I enjoying fairly close views and an opportunity to photograph the bird from the east shore. An Aythya hybrid, presumably a Pochard x Tufted, had me pondering for a while, and a Water Rail could be heard squealing from the reeds. It would be rude to not end the day without a final duck species (10 in total today) so we visited the lonely gentleman in the last photo before heading home! A dusk check on Mill Pond confirmed the Red-crested Pochard was still present.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Northern France & the Netherlands - day 3

Bar-headed Geese at Kade, Zevenhoven
This is the second of 3 blog posts covering my trip to northern France and the Netherlands from 16th-19th November 2016. A full trip report can be found here, on Cloud Birders.

Day 3 - Zuid-Holland & Amsterdam

Tundra Bean Geese, part of a group of 60
On the last day I had 3 targets left, for which I had sites for 2. We were heading to Amsterdam, where one of them was waiting, and I had received gen for Bar-headed Goose late the night before. Black Swan, I had written off. The Bar-heads had been reported in Zevenhoven, in the far north of Zuid-Holland. It was very much en route to Amsterdam, and so we could afford to have one last shot at this species. The Zevenhoven area, like Die Biesbosch yesterday, surprised me in it's attraction. A network of fields, lakes and marshes were home to some spectacular houses. There can't be many nicer places to live, and the number of birds were high. Loads of Geese and Ducks were seen (including, weirdly, a Wood Duck pair), and as we followed the GPS to a farm adjacent to the river Kromme Mijdrecht. Right in front of us, were 8 Bar-headed Geese, resting with 2 Mute Swans. Easy enough, and a relief after missing out yesterday.

The drake American Wigeon at Snel en Polanen
We moved on quickly, driving through this delightful area. A Marsh Harrier was the only one of the trip, and plenty of Great White Egrets were seen, before a colossal flock of Grey Geese caught my eye from a raised road we were on. We pulled over, and a scan made it clear most were White-fronts, with a good number of Greylags. However, the birds right at the front weren't, and it soon became clear about 60 Tundra Bean Geese were also present. They were a welcome surprise, and the 10th Goose species of the trip. We continued our journey to Amsterdam, passing 3 more Bar-headed Geese in Mijdrecht on the way.

2 Alexandrine Parakeets at Vondelpark
The first stop in Amsterdam was Oosterpark, one of 3 urban parks where my next quarry was supposedly easy to find. The squawking of several Ring-necked Parakeets raised my hopes, but ultimately I found nothing different here, as the rain began to fall heavily. It was then on to Vondelpark, a beautiful place, and straight away a large Parakeet caught my eye. It landed, and the bright, heavy beak stood out. I made out the pink shoulder patch, and clearly was looking at my first Alexandrine Parakeet. These birds breed in a few places in the Netherlands, and I saw several more in Vondelpark, their call and size the most obvious feature. With the second tick of the day in the bag, we enjoyed Amsterdam for several hours. 

The Black Swan at Nationaal Park Die Biesbosch
As we began our journey back down, news broke first of an American Wigeon, just 19 minutes off the motorway, and then, remarkably, of a Black Swan back at Die Biesbosch. We had time to try for both. The first port of call was Snel en Polanen, where the drake American Wigeon was sleeping quite close to the shore. I took in some nice views, as a small crowd assembled. Presumably this is quite a record for the Netherlands, but with time against us we had to make haste, and continue south, back to Die Biesbosch. 

Chilean and Greater Flamingoes at Batenoord
With another GPS courtesy of Waarneming, we pulled up at a flooded field, and there it was, a single Black Swan with 62 Mutes. Finally, all the trip targets were in the bag. 2 White-tailed Eagles had been reported here this morning too, and with my girlfriend keen to see them we stuck around, but couldn't wait too long before we continued heading back. The journey back to Calais included a few nice birds - a flock of Avocet, a weird, mixed Flamingo flock at Batenoord (including Greater and breeding Chilean), another Hen Harrier and a female Merlin near Haringvliet. The latter proved to be the 100th bird of what had been an excellent trip.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Northern France & the Netherlands - day 2

This is the second of 3 blog posts covering my trip to northern France and the Netherlands from 16th-19th November 2016. A full trip report can be found here, on Cloud Birders.

Day 2 - Netherlands: Zuid-Holland, Noord-Brabant & Utrecht provinces
Zuid-Holland in a bird - Barnacle Geese, in the 10's
of 1000's, these ones at Oudeland van Strijen

After a largely non-birding day on the Thursday, Friday 18th was when I'd scheduled to see most of my targets, including the main one, Lesser White-fronted Goose. Thus, we started not long after dawn at the site for this rare species, the captivating Oudeland van Strijen polder fields, a little more than 12 miles SW of Dordrecht, in Zuid Holland. Polders are areas of low-lying land, reclaimed from the sea or a river, and protected by artificial channels. They're characteristic of the Netherlands. Indeed, when we arrived, the typical Dutch winter birding scene was spread out in front of me, as far as the eye could see. Tens upon tens of thousands of wintering Geese, predominately Barnacle, fed in the patchwork of fields, their yelping calls filling the air. 

The other most populous Goose here was White-fronted, of which there were at least a few thousand. 3 other Geese speciess and many dabbling ducks were also viewable almost everywhere, with big numbers of Mute Swans, Grey Herons, Curlews, Lapwings and at least 10 Great White Egrets. Approaching from the village of Strijen, to the east of the polders, I didn't really know how to begin my needle-in-a-haystack search for the Lesser White-fronts. I decided to methodically work my way around the entire area, before cutting through a north-south track, Vlaamseweg, in the middle, checking each flock of Geese. The magic of the area was pushing me on, and the first hour flew by. The problem with the polders is the unevenness - the many dykes and ditches mean distant Geese can disappear easily, making targets even harder to pick out. 

The drake Bufflehead at Barendrecht
By about 10 o'clock it became clear this was not going to be an easy job. It was very hard to pull myself away, but I decided that it would make sense to move on, and try again later. With Geese still flying in from roost, I figured another thorough search in the afternoon was the best idea, and we headed north to Barendrecht, where the next target of the day was located. Remarkably, the drake Bufflehead on Gaatkens Plas, at Koedood, was back for his 13th winter, and had been reported fairly consistently in recent days. This smart duck has been accepted as wild by the Dutch authorities, and only a few minutes after pulling up we were looking at the Bufflehead, as it dived and displayed with a small flock of Tufted Ducks along the southern shore. This was the easiest bird of the trip, and after enjoying some fantastic views we had a bite to eat in the car, before heading back past Dordrecht, to the Zuid-Holland/Noord Brabant border, with the next target ready to be looked for.

Great White Egrets were common
- over 40 were seen on the 18th
The Nationaal Park De Biesbosch is a habitat like nothing I have seen before. Situated on the eastern side of the Hollands Diep river, it's one of the last extensive areas of freshwater tidal wetlands in Northwestern Europe. For miles and miles, flooded fields, small networks of rivers, partially sunken forests, wet grassland and reeds could be seen, with a simply huge amount of birds present. As with seemingly everywhere in the Netherlands, access is easy, and you could drive through this marvelous area, a simple car ride turning into a avian safari. The cast was similar to Strijen, though with many more ducks and a staggering amount of Mute Swans, with at least 150 present. However, my main target here was a category C bird, Black Swan, with a family party reported a couple of times in the past week. However, despite cruising through the entire area we had no joy, but this disappointment was completely wiped away by the stunning scenery and cast of birds. 2 ringtail Hen Harriers were a nice treat, with good views roadside, and nearby the only Water Pipits of the trip were feeding in the grass. It would have been nice to spend the day here, but I had other targets, and after 2 'dips' the pressure was on, as we made our way east to Culemborg.

One of the Ringtail Hen Harriers at De Biesbosch
Another category C bird was the target, this time Bar-headed Goose. In Josh Jones' 2015 report he mentioned a flock of 73 birds along the River Lek here, with the species said to be populous along this stretch of water. After a 50 minute drive we pulled up on a road that overlooked the river, but to my disappointment I could see no Bar-heads, just Barnacles and White-fronts. Naively, I was confident I would see this species here, and hadn't researched a back up site, much like I had with the Black Swans. I began to worry that I would perhaps miss out on 2 species, far from ideal, and it became clear the need to check Waarneming.nl for the most recent sightings would be crucial for landing the birds I needed, bar a stroke of luck. After a quick check further up the river valley we decided to head back to Oudeland van Strijen, where it was time to really hammer the Geese. As we were driving back, news came through of one of the wintering Red-breasted Geese there, and I was determined to pick that individual out too.

Oudeland van Strijen - flat, vast, and uneven habitat
makes hard birding
A couple of roadside White Storks were a nice surprise on the ride back, and we got to Oudeland van Strijen at about 14:15. I had only a couple of hours, maximum, to find the Lesser White-fronts, and I decided to try and find the Red-breasted Goose first of all. The bird had been reported to the west of the Vlaamseweg track, in a big, bumpy polder called Dwarsche Vaart. After a couple of pull ins and scans along the Vlaamseweg, at the third one I decided to get the scope out, and work my way through what must have been at least 300 each of Barnacle and White-fronted Geese. I could see nothing of note, but when I looked even further, beyond the flocks, the clear colours of a Red-breasted Goose filled by telescope view! The bird was far off, and feeding behind a metal gate with Barnacles, and I had just a couple of minutes with it before showing my girlfriend. The deceptive nature of the polder then came through, as the Goose vanished, seemingly into a dyke. It wasn't seen again, but I was now strongly motivated to find the main trip target.

We moved further up the track, and I scanned a big flock of White-fronts. As I moved the scope to the right, 5 Geese shot to my attention. Having tried to turn a few White-fronts into Lessers earlier in the day, these birds had me pretty sure from the off, with the extensive white blaze over the crown, the short stubby bill, slightly darker colour and size very clear. Any effects the biting wind had soon evaporated as the adrenaline kicked in. I wanted to nail the eye-ring, to be sure, and after finally managing to hold the scope steady I could see it clearly, certainly on the 3 right-hand birds. Finally, Lesser White-fronted Geese! Amazed, relieved, and delighted, I beckoned my girlfriend over, and she attempted a few phone-scope shots of the right hand birds. The 2 others had seemingly vanished, and after watching the 3 for a few minutes, suddenly, they took flight. They landed not far to the west, but after about 10 minutes of trying to relocate them, I gave in, still over the moon to have got a bird I had desired for a very long time. This was proper birding - picking a species out among thousands if similar ones, in a vast and testing habitat. 

A pointless picture, but of a birding
moment that will live long in the memory -
3 of the 5 Lesser White-fronted Geese
Remarkably, 22 we reported later in the day. This remains the highest figure reported all winter, and by some distance, so it certainly seems a little odd. These extremely rare birds are from the Swedish reintroduction programme, but with Dutch wintering numbers surpassing the amount of birds in Sweden, clearly others are coming from somewhere. I was chuffed to have seen them, and with little sunlight left we decided to head to the far south of the polders, where a Bar-headed Goose had been reported earlier in the week. We had no joy, but the thrill of getting the main target certainly outweighed any disappointment of missing the category C birds. When we got in, fortune seemed to shine down on me, as I learnt of a flock of 13 Bar-headed Geese on the way to Amsterdam, where we were headed tomorrow. I would have a final chance with these birds. Another target was waiting for me in the Dutch capital, but it seemed Black Swan was going to be very hard to get.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Northern France & the Netherlands - day 1

This is the first of 3 blog posts covering my trip to northern France and the Netherlands from 16th-19th November 2016. A full trip report can be found here, on Cloud Birders.

Day 1 - Foret d'Hesdin

The moon over Foret d'Hesdin
The first full day of the trip was to include little birding, with only an hour or so scheduled in the Foret d'Hesdin, in Nord Pas de Calais, from dawn. We awoke in the small town of Hesdin, about 64 miles south-east of Calais, and after wolfing down a couple of pastries from the local boulangerie were heading up into the west side of the forest. This 1014 hectare, predominantly Beech woodland habitat was home to my one and only target of the day, and my only one that wasn't to be found in the Netherlands - Reeve's Pheasant.

This spectacular Chinese introduction is on category C of the French list, and the species breeds in Foret d'Hesdin, though birds are released here too. With Josh Jones' specific directions at hand, we parked by the gate on the western entrance track, and climbed up into the forest. Dew was still on the undergrowth, which was expansive, and the mist was lifting off the trees. The sound of finches filled the autumn air - huge numbers of Chaffinches, Siskins and Bramblings could be heard in the tree tops, with many Thrushes and Woodpigeons also present.

5 of the 8 male Reeve's Pheasants seen 
Walking up the track produced not a single Pheasant, not even a Common, and so we decided to deviate off the main path and deeper into the woods. Still, we had not a whiff of a gamebird, though some distinctive ticking high in the Beech trees above me indicated a Hawfinch, which I managed to lock eyes on. A few more of these enigmatic finches were heard in the following hour. Frustratingly, we headed back to the main track, and I continued the path east. As I approached a bend, a rather upright Pheasant came into view, and it wasn't long before I had my binoculars on a female Reeve's Pheasant. She stood, partially obscured by leaves, partially by mist, and as I began to approach she took off into the trees, much unlike a Common Pheasant.

These birds were confiding - the skulky individuals
in the deeper forest were probably wild-bred
Encouraged, I continued east, and a young plantation on the south side of the track revealed 2 stunning male birds. I slowly followed them into the young trees, and found 4 females, all very wary and quick to skulk away. A calling Crested Tit was a nice sueprise here. Delighted with the success, we grabbed the car and drove up the track, beyond the plantation, clocking up 2 more birds (a male and female) before stopping at a crossroads. Remarkably, here we found 5 males in the southbound track, showing wonderfully and just a few feet from the car. I managed several photos before leaving them to it, as we left Hesdin and France, moving into Belgium where we would stay the night.

Category C Pheasants aren't for everyone. Personally, seeing a Golden Pheasant in Norfolk last year was a wonderful moment. Either way, the next day would see the start of some proper winter birding, as I began my quest to see one of Europe's rarest waterbirds.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

13th November

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the beauty of patch birding for me is the unpredictability of it. Of course, most days patching in Surrey are pretty much the same. Monthly high counts and local movement can often be the highlight of a session, and largely I head out in hope over any real expectation. Today was one of those days. Indeed, I wasn't really heading out, I just had the opportunity to quickly drive through the west side of the patch and check out Mill Pond before work.

Best of a bad batch of photos of the Red-crested Pochard,
which was skulky and hard to view
In my last post I mentioned my visit to Buckinghamshire for an inland Velvet Scoter, and after chatting to leading Surrey lister Dave Harris last night I learnt of a female Goosander present for it's 3rd day less than a mile north of my patch, in Wonersh. Thus, ducks were on my mind this morning, and I decided to check out Bramley Park Lake as well as Mill Pond for a change. I don't visit Bramley Park Lake enough. It's owned by the Godalming Angling Society, and whilst popular with Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes, has never held too much (bar a Common Sandpiper that Sam Jones had a few years ago). The limited viewing area and awkward parking further puts me off, but I had visions of a Goosander of my own this morning, and headed down the muddy track at about 07:50.

The lake was misty, and 7 Cormorants up in the surrounding trees immediately caught my eye - a large count for my patch. Through the mist, which was heavy, I could see a large, brown-ish duck towards the south side. I got my bins on it, and couldn't believe I was looking at a female Red-crested Pochard! She was acting much like the numerous wild ones I saw in southern Spain in April did, skulking in and out of the waterside vegetation at the south end. This behaviour, coupled with being beyond the middle islands, made it hard to get prolonged views of her, and I managed just a couple of awful pictures through the mist.

The last Red-crested record - my first-ever bird log book,
documenting the drake at Winkworth in 1999!
Red-crested Pochards have an interesting history in my patch. The last known record was in September 1999, by myself, at Winkworth Arboretum. A pair actually bred on Rowe's Flashe for a few years in the mid-90's, with the last known success in 1997 (a brood of 6 on 21st May). My 1999 bird was a drake, and I am sure birds hung on there into the 2000's, but I can't find any records. Whatever their fate, my bird today was a total surprise, and seemingly a short-stayer as she wasn't seen again today despite 2 further searches.

Matt Phelps had been doing his WeBS count at Winkworth this morning, managing the first Water Rail of this winter back in Phillimore, and he stopped by Bramley Park Lake at about 08:50 but couldn't find the Red-crested Pochard. After work I had another lookm but also failed to find her. A number of fishermen were present though, and she may well have been flushed. At this time of year, clearly these secluded and seldom checked water bodies are worth a look. I still hope for my Goosander, but today's bird was enough of a treat.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

10th November

After a productive session last Thursday, the week since has been fairly quiet on the patch. On the 5th, I was on the Ridge after dark to watch the local fireworks with my girlfriend. Unfortunately, there were to be no flyover Geese or Swans - only a Tawny Owl and a couple of Redwings. Earlier in the day the first Common Gull of the winter flew over Allden's Hill, but apart from some Gadwall and Shoveler on Mill Pond, not much has been seen. Today was particularly slow-going, with a few Herring Gulls east and 16 Meadow Pipits south the only movement of note between 08:00-09:30.

Red Kite over the Ridge today
The best part of the morning was the opportunity to catch up with Luke, the Thorncombe Park gamekeeper, who I'd not seen for some months. We discussed what I'd seen recently, and how the scarcer breeders had got on during the summer, before he casually told me about a female Goshawk that he'd seen twice in recent weeks. Remarkably, he saw her plucking the feathers off a recently killed Woodpigeon near the Ridge on 30th October, and speculated as to where she'd come from, based on where he had heard the birds breed locally. I certainly trust Luke's ID skills, for a number of reasons and past moments. When I asked whether it may have been a female Sparrowhawk he chuckled, saying it was definitely a Gos, and when he initially approached the bird he thought it was a Buzzard.

Goshawks do seem to be on the slight increase as breeders in Surrey, and in general throughout the country. I had my first good vice-county views last year at one site, and a male at a different one twice this spring. I wouldn't be surprised if this female came from either location, and hopefully she will show herself again this winter. There is certainly a healthy supply of Woodpigeons and Corvids for her. My only 2 previous sightings on my patch were of birds passing through (including a female in March this year), and on both occasions I had been alerted to them by Matt, who had given me the heads up as they flew over Winkworth.

Drake Velvet Scoter at Dorney Lake, Bucks
With the rest of the patch as quiet as the Ridge had been, I decided to make the 45-minute journey to Buckinghamshire, where a couple of notable records for the county had caught my eye. I think any inland patch birder considers a seabird almost the holy grail of self-finds. Personally, the idea of a lost Skua or Gannet drifting over the Ridge, or a grounded Auk or Petrel on Mill Pond, thrills me, and I touched on this in my last post. Whilst not quite on that level, a Velvet Scoter inland is still a fine record - the last in Surrey was 6 years ago.

Buckinghamshire, remarkably, had it's 5th and 6th record of this sea-duck in the last few days, and the closeness to home and showiness of 1 bird at Dorney Lake, near Windsor, was enough to tempt me. I have seen this species a few times before, but never much more than just about making out a white splodge on a whirring black bird, far out to sea. Thus, it was remarkable to be a few feet from this extremely lost young male bird, looking very out of place among the motley collection of dabbling ducks and Geese in the middle of a rowing lake. It's records like this that help fuel the patch motivation.

2015 report

The 2015 Thorncombe Street & Winkworth Arboretum bird report is available to read, for free, via this hyperlink. Hard copies are still available too.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

3rd November

I have been lucky enough to enjoy 2 days off at a time when the weather has been beautiful. Crisp, sunny autumn days are quite stunning on the patch, though today was notably colder, with a frost spread out across the fields when I got to Rowe Barn Farm at 08:30 this morning.

Slade's Farm this morning
The sky was clear, and it became immediately apparent it was perfect conditions for another Woodpigeon day. I clocked over 1000 yesterday (nothing compared to the 120,000+ over Cardiff!), and today fell only a few hundred short from my arrival to around 13:30. As I climbed up the path to the Ridge big numbers of Redwings chattered quietly in the holly bushes, but there was no Ring Ouzel here today, after birds here yesterday and Monday. 3 Herring Gulls drifted south as I reached the top, my eyes drawn quickly to the large number of Buntings and Finches on the crops at the summit.

It looks like this winter will again host big numbers of seed-eaters on the Ridge, and the amount had risen since yesterday by a fair bit. In total I logged 7 species - 50+ Linnet, 15+ Reed Bunting, 30+ Chaffinch, 1 Bullfinch, c.25 Siskin, 10+ Goldfinch and 2 Lesser Redpoll (both flying south). Hopefully it won't be long until the Bramblings and Yellowhammers join them, and I really hope to find something special here this winter. Surely a Lapland Bunting, or Mealy Redpoll will drop in, it's just a case of putting in the hours and getting lucky, as the birds are all pretty mobile and hard to pin down.
A female Reed Bunting on the Ridge

Above me, movement was fairly quiet, bar a couple more Herrings, some Meadow Pipits, about 40 Fieldfare and the Pigeons. I dropped back down, and headed to Winkworth, where my first birds at Rowe's Flashe were a Grey Heron, an adult and juvenile Cormorant, 1 Grey Wagtail and 3 drake Tufted Ducks. At about 08:55 I heard what sounded like a distant Ring-necked Parakeet to the east. It called again, this time much closer, and before I could get my hands on my binoculars the bird flashed noisily over my head, strongly west. This was a very welcome surprise - patch tick 113 of the year, leaving me just 1 short of my record 114.

The south-facing sacrificial crop looks perfect for Buntings
and Finches - bring on the Twite & Lapland Longspurs!
Interestingly, it seems there has been a notable Ring-necked Parakeet dispersal during the past few days. Tice's Meadow had only their 5th record this morning, and I was pleased to learn of a bird near Wintershall, on my bit, yesterday, via Phillip Lowden, who also had 2 over Shamley Green last week. Parakeet's remain very rare this south of the county, with only 2 on my patch last year. The Thorncombe park gamekeeper has seen a couple before, but the historic total is surely less than 10. I doubt they will remain scarce for that long.

Continuing through Winkworth plenty more Thrushes, Tits and Woodpeckers were noted, and a male Blackcap feeding on Sorbus Hill was a surprise. From here, it was on to Gate Street Farm, where the plan was to walk from there through Wintershall, Great Brook and Juniper Hill to Hascombe, where we would have lunch at the White Horse. A couple of Marsh Tit's let off their distinctive call in Great Brook, and a Red Kite flew over Juniper Hill. However, the best bird was yet another Ring Ouzel, this one almost certainly a 1st-winter bird. It perched in a dead blackthorn bush for about 30 seconds before flying SW with a few continental Blackbirds and Redwings.
A flock of Woodpigeons over the Ridge

Ring Ouzels are rare, but regular autumn visitors here. This week has seen all 3 records for 2016, and last year this species was also fairly late in passing through. A Tawny Owl began calling as we headed through Juniper Hill, where a Firecrest called from deep within some holly. I tried unsuccessfully for Woodcock here, and with the sun still beaming we dropped down into Hascombe, and out of the patch boundary.

Hascombe village pond - once host to a Puffin
A couple of Little Grebes were present on the village pond, and I day-dreamed briefly about a crazy 19th-century record of a Puffin on this very water. A patch seabird would be true gold (indeed platinum), and I live in hope that I will get lucky one day. This autumn is enough inspiration, with a probable Pomarine Skua over Blackdown on October 1st, and today a Little Auk at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire (granted near the sea) for a few hours.

Monday, 24 October 2016

24th October

Again, there has been a fair gap between this and my last post. I haven't managed to get out on the patch quite as much as I'd hoped this autumn, particularly compared to last year. In 2015, September and October yielded 8 year ticks - so far I am on just 3 for those months. Tree Pipit (a patch first record) and Osprey (a patch tick for me, only the second known record) both came on the same day in early September, so I guess I feel a little underwhelmed having only added Wigeon (an eclipse drake at Rowe's Flashe on 1st October) since.

I managed no Whinchats, Redstarts or, as of yet, Ring Ouzels, the latter one I really expected to see by now. I spent most of my time on the patch today hopefully listening for a Yellow-browed Warbler, after a flurry of Surrey records in recent weeks. Alas, I didn't chance upon one, these birds becoming mere footnotes in Shetland earlier this month (that trip will merit a report of its own at one point) such was the frequency of finding them. It seems I have missed a mega this autumn - I write this on the one-year anniversary of Matt Phelps' and my Little Bunting over the Ridge!

Having parked up by the gate at the start of the New Barn path after work, it became immediately apparent that a number of birds were present in the trees that flank the east side of the track. Beech seeds, horse chestnuts and holly berries littered the floor, and the calls of various Thrushes, finches and Tits whispered, buzzed and chattered, largely out of view. A few Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests suddenly appeared, but my call-playing and ear-straining could't pick out a Yellow-browed with them. The number of finches dropping down from the Beech tree had caught my eye, seemingly all Chaffinches, and I was surprised not to note at least one Brambling, having had a few back on the patch in recent days.

One large finch flashed between the leaves high up and, moments later, a heavy 'tick' gave up the presence of a Hawfinch, typically elusive and hard to see. I managed 2 more glimpses but nothing elongated (there could have been more than one), and the birds eventually flushed when I headed south down the path about 10 minutes later. A nice record, and pretty much over the road from Great Brook, where I had 2 birds on February 6th. I have no idea if these birds have come from far (Scandinavia) or close (Chiddingfold woods), but there was a bird at Blackdown, near Haslemere, yesterday, so perhaps there has been some recent movement. I picked up a calling Marsh Tit here too, but couldn't relocate the Hawfinch on the way back.

Happier times - the Mill Pond Mutes during the summer of 2014
Despite this pleasing record, today confirmed some very sad patch news. Since the 1950's, Mute Swans have resided on Mill Pond. In recent years they have always nested successfully, but last year the nest was predated twice by Foxes. For some reasons the Swans had nested close to land, and they did again this year. Unsurprisingly, they failed, and I last saw them both on the water on August 11th. From here, the situation seems odd. On the 13th, the male was on the road, being shepherded off by two gardeners. I was in a moving car, and never learnt the outcome. From then, only the female remained on the water, with no sign of her mate. On the 18th she was present, but then vanished, Mill Pond empty of its white residents for the first time in my memory.

Oddly, I had 2 over the Ridge on 8th September, but these were almost certainly not the local pair. I assumed they had simply relocated until, on October 6th, the female was back on Mill Pond. There was no sign of the male during the following weeks, and she was last seen there by my girlfriend (who took great interest in this story!) on Wednesday 12th, when I was in Shetland. Since I got back, I have not seen her, but on Friday, tragically, I noticed what was almost certainly a floating body of a Swan on the far south side. The body was still there today, and it truly seems like it's the end of the Mill Pond Mutes. What actually happened, particularly with the male, I will never know, and Mute Swan will no doubt become an extremely hard bird to get on the patch.

Anyway, I may still manage Ring Ouzel (I had a November 5th bird last year), and Woodcock is still to be seen, as 2016 winds to an end. What's certain is another chance to add to my Western Palearctic list, with a Low Countries November trip and an Arctic Circle adventure in December offering potential for snow specialists and Category C wonders!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

A Love Letter to a Garden

(This was written in late May 2016, but only published today – when my parents finally moved).

This week, after 21 years, I will be saying goodbye to the garden I’ve known pretty much my entire life. I’m writing this as I sit in it – two Dunnock’s have just bombed into one of the bordering hedges, and a pair of Collared Doves are waiting nervously and patiently in the big oak at the back, no doubt ready to swoop down to the fallen seed when I move. Halfway through typing that sentence a Coal Tit alighted just a few feet away from me on the niger feeder. Having spent the first years of my life that I can remember in this house, all the way through my teens and into early adulthood, there is no doubt of the affinity I have for this small rectangle of land.

With my siblings and I having all graduated, my parents are climbing aboard a lifelong dream to relocate to the sea, Sussex in fact, where I can realistically hope for Divers, Terns and Skuas on that particular garden list. Lists are things you never think of finishing. A life, county or patch list lasts as long as you do, and only recently have I realised that my garden total will no longer be able to be extended, with 72 seemingly the grand total I’ve amassed, bar a very surprising visitor this week.
A juvenile Dunnock foraging on the day I wrote this post
With my mini ‘scope set up, the dining room was very much a hide in my early teens, and I familiarised myself with a number of common species during these formative years, as well as enjoying the thrills of candid moments with unusual birds (to a young kid), like Siskin and Marsh Tit. In my later teens as my interest waned, and birding became practically non-existent, my garden was always going to be the only place I’d notice anything feathered, forever a little time portal to my obsessive youth. And, here I am now, in the garden, rattling away a post for a blog that was triggered in part by my re-found love for birds over the last 6 or 7 years. 2 Woodpigeons have shooed off the Doves in the Oak, and a very bold Jay just grabbed a peanut and flew off.

It’s fair to say my garden triggered my hobby of birding, and the pleasing feel of identification. It must have been 1997 or 1998, and a bird with a red forehead was sat in the small Ash. My mum could ID the common birds, and I could too, having an interest for general wildlife (think Really Wild Show), but this bird was a mystery. We knew my late grandmother had an ancient bird book on her shelf, so we phoned her up to ask for her help. She told us what it was – a Redpoll, and I remembered watching in awe at something I didn’t even know existed, let alone having it in my garden.

From that point I was hooked, and in 1998 my parents gave me a nondescript blue book for Christmas. It was to be my bird record book, and I used it until 2004, jotting down the more unusual things I saw. I longed for this book in recent years as I knew it’d hold forgotten memories, but numerous trips to the attic proved fruitless. Typically, with the upcoming move, it was found deep in a box, and I’ve had great joy thumbing through it these past few weeks. It holds many garden records that I recall vividly – my first ever Fieldfares and Redwings up close on the Rowan berry bush outside my very window (cut down to my frustration around 2002!), a pair of Mandarin Ducks on the deck for a good half an hour one April tea-time, and a handful of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers on the feeders. A very unseasonal Siskin called above me as I was typing this paragraph, and the Dunnock pair are now scurrying about the lawn.

As the years went on I was able to ID rarer birds. The rarest bird on my garden list no doubt came in 2010, when a Nightjar flew north over the back. It was surreal – broad daylight, clearly identifiable with a very unique flight, it was gone almost as soon as I saw it. More recently I’ve had Firecrest, one I waited a while for, and in 2010-2012 a regular flock of Bramblings would turn up in the winter. My friend Sam Jones even came over to twitch these, and it was also how I met Kevin ‘Kojak’ Guest, one of the Beddington birders, who came down one February day to photograph them. We’ve remained friends since. All of these memories will live with me forever – the foundations of a hobby, and the creation of sights that remain crystal clear in my mind. The last bird on the list was a Ring-necked Parakeet, perhaps fitting, symbolic of the changing times and landscape. No doubt in another 21 years they will be a lot more regular here, and will give any cats the same jip mine just received for innocuously strolling through the garden.

And, as always with birding, there was the one that got away. This is another memory I can recall perfectly, and to this day I’ll never be sure. It was a hot, sunny day, 17th May 2001, and I was playing in the garden when I noticed something big, high up. It had come from the east, and was slowly circling. I had my binoculars by the swing, and I managed to grab them and connect with the huge, Heron-like bird. Its neck was outstretched, and to my shock it uttered several loud, honking calls. I watched it for a good 4-5 minutes before it spiralled over the house and away. Looking back now it seems incredible, but I am pretty sure it must have been a Common Crane. Perhaps the next people living here will have one fly over, to lay that ghost to rest. However, I’ll never know if the bird list for this garden will ever get added to. Forever 72. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

18th August

A brilliant, full day on site rewarded me with yet another patch tick, and a very decent local record these days, in the form of a WOOD WARBLER. The valley was dripping with Warblers, a clear arrival having taken place, and I ended the day with 6 species as well as a pretty decent support cast, particularly given it's mid-August.

The Silver Birch & Holly that hosted the Wood Warbler
I started at Rowe Barn Farm/Slade's Farm and Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were seemingly in every hedge and tree. I scanned the Paddock hedge and picked up an extremely weird Warbler - plain grey, a clear white arse, head-stripe and tail flicking tendencies. It completely threw me, but I settled on it being an extremely pale Willow or Chiffchaff. The Ridge was fairly quiet, bar a few Sylvia's, so I headed to Allden's Hill for a sky-watch.

As I walked past the plantation on the left at about 11:00 my attention was drawn to a mournful like call from the trees flanking the path ahead of me, and I immediately knew it was something interesting. I dropped my bag and moved forward, the bird continuing to call as I glimpsed it twice among a big flock of Blue, Great, Coal and a single Marsh Tit (juvenile, nice!), with a few Goldcrests also present. I am not overly familiar with a Wood Warbler call, unlike the song, and I won't lie - I played both Icterine and Melodious calls on my app before Wood! Nothing wrong with ambition eh? However, as soon as I played Wood the bird instantly responded, and with a few pishes it dropped into view in a Silver Birch. The face was strikingly citrus, with pale underparts and a very light bill. Only a few feet from me, the bird was on the move constantly, and after a few minutes, with the rest of the flock, it disappeared south, calling as it went.

A young Chiffchaff, one of 30+ around today
The call was the clincher, and this is another fine Warbler record in the last week. I did always anticipate getting a Wood but always thought it'd be a singing spring male. Wood Warblers bred on my patch until the 1980's, and Jeremy Gates had a few most years on passage whilst working at Winkworth in the 1990's. All in all, a great bird for my 125th Thorncombe Street. The sky-watch was fairly quiet, though a south-flying Swift will surely be my last of the year, and alter than the last bird of 2015.

I went on to check out the New Barn area after that, for the hope of a new Warbler treble via a Lesser Whitethroat but it wasn't to be. There were however a few Garden Warblers here, making it 6 Warbler species for the day. What else is autumn going to bring? Final Warbler tally below -

Wood Warbler - 1 (c.11:02-11:07 in mixed Tit/Crest flock on Allden's Hill, calling)
Willow - 6
Chiffchaff - 30+
Blackcap - 18+
Garden - 3 (all New Barn area)
Whitethroat - 5 (1 adult male)

Monday, 15 August 2016

15th August

A gorgeous August day encouraged me to get on Allden's Hill after work for a few hours sky-watch, with my imaginiation stuffed with Osprey and Bee-eater filled skies. It was, however, the dark under-stories of trees on the north line of vegetation on the top of the Allden's Hill watch point that produced a big surprise and patch lifer - a Sedge Warbler!

A Red Kite over Allden's Hill today
As I approached from the west at roughly 16:08 I was stopped in my tracks by a fairly obvious Sedge, seemingly singing a few feet away from me. However, this was no where near water, it was mid-August and I was looking into a broad-leafed tree on top of a hill! I tried to convince myself it was something else mimicking, and the bird went silent for about 7 minutes before it sub-sang again. This time, it hopped into view straight after finishing its outburst, and the bold eye-stripe confirmed my suspicions. After brief and obscured views it seemed to drop down into the bushes further down the slope, and following about 10 minutes of nothing I went to take up my seat on the hill.

About quarter of an hour into my sky-watch, the bird piped up again, but that was it, and I didn't hear it again until my departure at about 18:15. I was chuffed though - I had my 106th patch bird of the year, and only my second tick in the last 2 1/2 months. Sedge Warblers are probably rare enough for a patch mega - it is my first one at Thorncombe Street, bringing my life list up to 124, 1 off a milestone 125. Matt Phelps had one pass through Winkworth in April last year, and I imagine if I spent more time there I would have perhaps had this species before. Still, it's unlikely discovery today emphasised the perennial element of surprise in birding, so often the most fulfilling part of patching.

The rest of the day was quiet. I had 5 raptor species, including big numbers of Red Kites and Buzzards, as well as a hunting Hobby. Selhurst Common is looking very interesting at the moment. I had a couple of Willow Warblers there again today, along with at least 10 Chiffchaffs and a Spotted Flycatcher. There, along with the Paddock, seem like my best places for Passerine migrants in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

11th August

Juvenile Buzzard today
Autumn is fast approaching. Gathering hirundines, trimmed hay and a distinct quietness thorughout the patch today highlighted this. The incessant chiff-chaffs have turned in huet's, seemingly today from every hedge or tree, as Warbler numbers build up as birds pass through or prepare to leave. Aside from the double-digit counts of Chiffchaffs, I however could only find 2 other species, with a handful of Blackcaps and at least 2 citrus coloured Willow Warblers around. It would be nice to find something a bit rarer in these coming weeks.

Yesterday an early male Wheatear was in the horse fields at Slade's Farm, just a day after one was at the other end of the county in Capel, with a family of Spotted Flycatcher's also nearby. Today was distinctly quiet, with the aforementioned Warblers accompanied by 4 Red-legged Partridges and a solo Hobby over the Ridge, presumably one of the pair. Juvenile raptors were very much in evidence, with at least 2 young Red Kites and many more Buzzards about, the latter species particularly vocal at this time of year.

Spotted Flycatcher near Selhurst Common on the 30th
A young Raven was also making itself heard, one of around 3 seen today. Junction Field was being cut down for hay, and a big flock of around 20 Stock Doves were feeding on it this afternoon. I scanned unsuccessfully for a Turtle Dove - it seems my time is running out for pinning one of those elusive birds down this summer. The last few weeks have largely been in keeping with today; quiet. A possibly Honey-buzzard flew very high SE over Allden's Hill on the 4th - it had a notably long tail, thin wings and was stripped underneath. Even pale wing patches were seemingly notable but the bird was too high, and with so many young Buzzards around at the moment it was impossible to get remotely close to confirmation.

Common Tern over the Ridge on the 29th
On the 29th 2 Common Terns flew W over the Ridge, separately, and both taking fish, presumably to young at Enton Lakes or Marsh Farm. Only my third record here, and all have come this year. Plenty of Spotted Flycatchers have been around this summer and I believe at least 3 pairs have bred. One have even taken up residence in the ivy-clad wall of a house near Selhurst Common, and I watched them taking insects to their young for several minutes on the 30th.

With autumn coming more migrants will be passing through, and it's now when I hope to catch something slightly rarer. Last autumn Whinchat, Redstart, Hen Harrier and Little Bunting were all added to the year list, and I am still due a Ring Ouzel in 2016.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

28th July

It's been nearly 2 months since my last post. This is due to a number of factors, mainly moving house, but also work, holidays, Euro 2016 and various other bits and bobs. Birding took a knock, but not much, and I've still managed plenty of patch visits. There have been a couple of highlights but nothing too spectacular, with trips afield offering more glamour birds.

A bird I want to snap on m patch - this Turtle Dove
was at Martin Down in June
With the breeding season peaking it's been fairly quiet. Mill Pond is currently a collection of eclipse Mandarin Ducks and Mallards, with at least 1 Tufted Duck pair succesfully raising young (7 ducklings on July 10th). The first juvenile Grey Herons are on the wing, and prominent from Mill Pond to Thorncombe Park.

Highlights from the breeding birds include, remarkably, Grey Partridges. These completely surprise additions to the site list in March have stuck around, and on June 24th I saw the pair with 3 young near Slade's Farm. They are exceptionally elusive - prior to that sighting I had seen the pair on the 4th June, and not since. Despite this, Matt Phelps had 2 across the road along Thorncombe Street, but no young were seen. Hopefully they were hiding from view.

Red-legged Partridges have also been successful, along with Ravens and Red Kites. At least 1 Spotted Flycatcher pair have bred, with birds often present in the wooded copse opposite Phillimore Cottage. It also seems the Hobby pair are proving successful again this year - today I saw 2 adults on the wing, hawking, hopefully collecting food for young on the nest.

I was left frustrated on Saturday when a streaky Warbler just wouldn't show itself in the thickets at the bottom of Allden's Hill. I think it was Grasshopper, but it wouldn't call, and after a hot hour or so I gave in. However, this disappointment has been more than made up for in the shape of 2 Turtle Dove records. A bird I blogged about before, now extremely scarce in Surrey, I was both delighted and amazed to hear one purring somewhere to the west of Allden's Hill on July 18th. The bird was extremely distant, somewhere in the Munstead direction, and only called a few times. I didn't even try to find it, but was delighted to add it to my Thorncombe Street life list.

Today was even better, as I actually saw a Turtle Dove, as it flew SE down the valley, viewed from Allden's Hill, at around 11:45. Where these/this bird is coming from I don't know, perhaps they are local, even hiding somewhere in my patch. Whatever the case, I don't have long to pin them down, and my aim during the next few weeks is to bag a photo of one. 15 Crossbills north later on was another decent record.

Bonaparte's Gull at Oare - a proud ID moment for me!
As I mentioned earlier, trips out and about have proved fruitful since my last post. A simply epic day with Matt in early June in Hampshire and Wiltshire yielded Honey-buzzard, Montagu's Harrier, Stone Curlew and Turtle Dove, with a recent break in France revealing Crested Tits, Black Kites, Black Redstarts and more. I also traveled up to Oare last week to finally get Bonaparte's Gull on my British list (ID-ed in flight!), and was delighted to add White Stork to that growing tally yesterday, as I got lucky with the Beddington bird, catching it minutes before it flew to roost. The latter is a fine Surrey bird, but that particular list is now very much bottom priority. I might go into it one day...

Thursday, 2 June 2016

2nd June

2 drake Pochards on Mill Pond today
With the patch slowing into high summer recently, the arrival of a Little Bittern at Barnes WWT on Sunday had me pondering a twitch ever since, with the bird seen every day following. It would be a monstrous Surrey tick (as well as a lifer for me), with only 9 previous records, the last of those exactly 20 years ago, and just 1 day off the arrival of this bird, with a male at Epsom Common Stew Ponds from 30th May-1st June 1996. May 2016 has been truly sensational for Surrey mega's - Black-winged Stilts, Montagu's Harrier, Iberian Chiffchaff, White Stork, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Marsh Warbler, Golden Oriole and now the Bittern!

Red Kite today
So, with the day off, I traveled up to Barnes for around 10:30, and joined the crowd of about 30-40 birders looking out over the reedy channel it had been seen (and photographed) well in yesterday, albeit very briefly. However, in a fairly biting wind from 10:40-13:40 there was no sign of the bird, and as I type this it still hasn't been seen today. Perhaps the wind kept it hunkered down, perhaps it's moved on, either way I don't think I'll have another chance of a Surrey Little Bittern for quite some time. Remarkably enough, one of the 9 records prior to this bird was of a female shot on my bit at Wintershall on March 25th 1855 - the ultimate patch blocker!

I left Mark Elsoffer and Rich Horton to try and get lucky with the bird, and headed back to the patch for a quick look around. Again, it was quiet, though 2 drake Pochards on Mill Pond were very nonseasonal. Typically, they were sleeping. The Ridge and down yielded little of note, though unusually high numbers of Mistle Thrush (5), House Martins (10+) and a big post-breeding flock of 50 or so Starlings were about.

Little Egret at Long Pond Field today
I went on from here to check some former Turtle Dove sites but, again, I found nothing. A Little Egret on Long Pond Field was a nice surprise though, and another slightly out of season record today. I pondered what a shock this would have been just a couple of decades ago. Indeed, when that last Surrey Little Bittern was on Epsom Common Stew Ponds, there had been more records of them in the county than there had Little Egrets.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

26th May

A Grey Heron at Mill Pond this morning
With few birds left to target on my patch, I've been branching out slightly during the last 10 days or so, looking for scarce and declining birds locally. My previous post mentioned Turtle Doves - I've still yet to find one, and more recently I've been searching for raptors and, last Thursday at least, Wood Warbler, having learnt they attempted to breed at a site I thought they'd long left, last year. I also took part in the Mole Valley Bird Race on Saturday, a shattering but rewarding effort in an area largely unknown to me. Our team came out on top with a fantastic 93 species, and I look forward to next years event.

The view from Allden's Hill
On the patch, I finally caught up with Spotted Flycatcher today, with a bird singing and feeding at Mill Pond in the morning, before another 2 were heard near Phillimore Cottage around lunch time. I suspect they bred at the latter site last year, and fingers crossed they do so again today. Elsewhere, there was little of note, on a largely quiet day. Raptor numbers are down somewhat, though I remain hopeful of something special (Honey Buzzard), after my Montagu's joy earlier in May. Generally it seems stuff is settling down to breed now, and I found a new Little Grebe nest today, which was a nice surprise.

Little Grebe
On Monday an nonseasonal pair of Gadwall were on Mill Pond, and unfortunately the Mute Swans, yet again, are off the nest. Despite much success in the years gone by they seem determined to have the nest attached to land, and I suspect a Fox has interfered, as was likely last year. Maybe they'll try again, but I'm not hopeful. Also on Monday, a Common Tern flew west over the Ridge. Only my second patch record, I suspect they are flying out to feed from Enton/Marsh Farm, and this individual as certainly going in that direction.

Monday, 16 May 2016

16th May

Red-legged Partridge on Allden's Hill
On 9th May 2011 I saw my last Turtle Dove in the UK. It was close to home too. I remember it fairly clearly - an individual flying north-west over Busbridge Woods (near Hydon's Ball), in the direction of Juniper Valley, which was a fairly decent site for them in previous years. Until that point I had seen a few in Surrey. Never loads, but my old record book tells me Court Farm in Hambledon, Chiddingfold and Hascombe held Turtle Doves in the summer during the late 1990's and early 2000's.

In 2016, their terrifyingly rapid decline renders them hard to see locally. Since my last bird in 2011 there have been a handful of regular birds in Surrey, but in the last couple of years less and less so, more often individuals passing through places than on territory. To my knowledge, there was one Surrey record in 2015, and that was through Beddington. This year has been slightly better, with at least 2 reported so far (West Horsley and little Bookham Common), and encouraged I decided to visit the haunts at which I've seen them before, today.

No Turtle Doves here...
I have held out hope of seeing one on my patch but in truth only small fragments of habitat are suitable, so my best bet is a flyover. Today it was very quiet - the Nightingale wasn't heard for a second consecutive day (maybe it's gone), a pair of Red-legged Partridges showed well whilst feeding but there was no flyover Lammergeier. So, the first stop was the scene of my last Turtle Dove, and Juniper Valley. A Firecrest was singing from the car park at Hydon's Ball, but a walk to and back from the southern end of Juniper Valley produced little.

It was then through Hydestile/Shad Well, where there were reports of birds in the late 2010's, but again nothing. Court Farm, where I have had them before, and where one was purring in 2010, but again, nothing, just Woodpigeons. The journey then continued into the far south of the county, where the farmland spreads out, itself such a rare sight in Surrey. Woods and streams meet arable fields and cottages, and the habitat really does look good, from Court Farm pretty much all the way down to Chiddingfold, on Vann Road.

...or here. The search continues
Ultimately, however, I didn't find a Turtle Dove today. A flock of 5 Collared Doves near Pockford Farm had me going for a minute, the birds flying from wires down into a garden to feed. Here looked perfect, and I was very pleased to hear Skylarks and Yellowhammers as I paced the road looking for my target. I will definitely be back here, and I'll also be checking out Tugley Wood soon. I'm determined to find a Surrey Turtle Dove in 2016, before it's too late.