Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

30th March

Migrants at last! A 5 hour session from dawn gradually rewarded today, with both Swallow and Willow Warbler added to the patch year list. Fairly gentle south-westerlies throughout the morning were helping birds move through, with other passerine and Gull movement in evidence throughout the valley.

The circuit from Rowe Barn Farm to Bonhurst was quiet, and it seemed that there was little of note around, though two high-flying Black-headed Gulls were clearly on the move. A few Meadow Pipits had passed overhead at first light, and this was a sign of things to come. 4 Bramblings were still on the Ridge, joined today by 2 Yellowhammers including a singing male, and I chose to sky-watch here from about 08:15. At 08:40 a huge, lumbering juvenile gull came in from the north and dropped low enough to be identified as a Great Black-backed, my second of the year. 2 groups of Herring Gulls drifted SE not long after, and 3 Cormorants and a Skylark were also moving through.

Allden's Hill was the productive side of the valley today
A staggering 27 Grey Herons were back in the heronry, after they seemed to relocate to Thorncombe Park in the past few weeks, and a few more Meadow Pipits squeaked overhead. However, things were generally quite quiet, so I decided to switch to Allden's Hill. It quickly became apparent that this was the better side of the valley to be on today, the westerly pushing stuff closer. Immediately the number of Meadow Pipits shot up, groups of 8 or more regular, and I quickly cleared the 50 mark. At 10:32 the moment I await and record every year happened, as a single Swallow determinedly zoomed north above my head. I was thrilled - it made the hours watching the sky during the past few days worthwhile - and I was up for more as further Meadow Pipits raced past.

4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls drifted north, sandwiched between the Pipits, and as I cleared 70 I aimed to break my record count, ironically enough 88 on 30th March last year. 3 more Swallows pushed on at 11:39, and by midday I'd smashed the Meadow Pipit record, a crazy 103 the final tally. A fall of Chiffchaffs had clearly occured as I totted up 7 throughout the morning, but the day was capped off not long before I left, when a Willow Warbler briefly uttered it's laid back song from somewhere to the north of my seat. Like the Chiffchaffs throughout the day it wasn't singing with much gusto or frequency, no doubt tired from it's colossal journey to get here.

Monday, 28 March 2016

28th March

Thorncombe Street

There's been more non-starting in regard to anticipated migration during the past 2 days, with only a few signs of movement. A few hours sky-watching yesterday afternoon was notable for a small gull passage, including 8 Herring Gulls south and a trickle of Meadow Pipits north, but aside from a couple of singing Chiffchaffs there was nothing else to report. Today, I met up with Sam Jones just after midday, and with an Osprey having departed Enton Lakes not long before (the second local bird in 3 days) and a Swallow over Shalford at a similar time, we went out hopeful that Storm Katie had blown some birds our way.

There was still a fairly strong breeze as we set out, and the usual fare were noted quite quickly, though not in particularly high numbers. The mixed flock on the Ridge has dropped down significantly now, with no Yellowhammers hanging around anymore. We did, however, pick up at least 5 Bramblings, hunkering down in the bushes. A walk to Bonhurst hinted at spring, a singing Blackcap briefly uttering it's attractive song from somewhere in the orchard next to Birtley House track. This was a year tick, and Sam later had another at Juniper Valley, near Hydon's Ball, suggesting a migrant fall rather than stirred wintering birds. 2 Chiffchaffs were singing in Furze Field but, all in all, it was fairly quiet.

Grey Wagtails at Mill Pond
The Grey Partridges have not been seen since Friday, furthering the mystery as to their origin, as we looked in vain. A sky-watch from Allden's Hill produced little, despite intermittent showers, though 3 Lesser Redpoll north was a surprise, and it was fascinating to see 2 Red Kites powering south at great height. There were no hirundines hawking over Mill Pond, but the Grey Wagtail pair provided entertainment as they fly-caught from the north wall.

Godalming area

As previously mentioned, a couple of Ospreys have been passing through over the Easter weekend. One flew north over Tuesley Farm at 09:05 on Friday, before a bird turned up at Enton lakes today, where it fished from about 10:45 until 11:20, when it flew off. Another was seen by Matt Phelps flying north over his Chilworth garden this afternoon. A Swallow went west over Shalford water meadows today, and there were Great Grey Shrikes at both Thursley and Frensham Commons on Friday.

Friday, 25 March 2016

25th March

Birding is glorious in it's unpredictability. The last couple of days have seen a slight change in weather, and as a result the first wave of migrants have been seen in the county. Swallows, Sand Martins, Little Ringed Plovers and more have turned up, and today and Thursday I went out fully expecting to be tripping over Wheatears and batting away Hirundines. This, of course, was not the case, and I write this with no migrants on my year list (aside from 4 very overdue Chiffchaffs today, London buses and all). However, what a couple of days it has been.

Top left is a flying Grey Partridge - promise!
A standard trip yesterday morning was followed by a late sticking in of the head at Rowe Barn Farm, with light fading. I was passing through and decided to go via the patch. I'm not sure what I expected as I reached the first stile, but it wasn't for 2 clods of earth to move. I stopped in my tracks, and what a shock, 2 Grey Partridges! What on earth where they doing here? A first known site record, and truly my most bizarre moment here. I got my camera out, but the sound of it turning on made them jump (not sure they'd clocked me yet) and the first one bolted up and over the hedge, soon followed by another. I got a picture of an object flying - I swear it's a Grey Partridge!

Imagine my delight when, enthused by this, an early start today was rewarded with one of the birds again, this time flushed further up. It took off towards Slade's Farm and was lost in a hedgerow. I know that the Thorncombe Park estate doesn't release Grey Partridges, so perhaps it was Wintershall. There certainly are a heinous number of Pheasants down that end of the patch right now, but there are also records of wild Greys from nearby Loseley and Dunsfold in recent times. A mystery, and I hope they stick.

1 of 4 Lapwing over the Ridge earlier
It was an utterly glorious morning. Tiny numbers of Brambling and Yellowhammer were still present on the Ridge, and a loop to Bonhurst and back finally got my first Chiffchaff, a bird singing in Furze Field. A sky-watch from the Ridge saw plenty of raptors and corvids up, but vis-mig was not really evident, bar a brief flurry around 09:30 which saw a Meadow Pipit, 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 4 Lapwing north.

A whiz around the area produced Skylark and Little Owl, before the weather tempted me into a prolonged sky-watch/sun-burn obtaining session on Allden's Hill. It was genuinely warm, the stunning view and constant presence of Buzzards (40+, seriously, including some on the move), Red Kites and Ravens allowed the obvious lack of migrants to not matter. A few Meadow Pipits and Siskin were moving, but in 4 hours there really wasn't too much. Just as I was about to set off, Matt Phelps text me, with news of a raptor going NW over Winkworth, almost directly next to where I was sitting...

About 4 minutes later, I picked up a colossal female Goshawk, directly in front of me and gaining height. It was pretty set on its journey through the valley, and she must have climbed to nearly 2,000 feet by the time she disappeared towards Guildford. Great teamwork - only my second Gos here. There is no suitable breeding habitat nearby and based on her flight, I reckon she was a migrant. A spectacular end to a luscious day, 61 species in total. No migrants, but they'll come.

Monday, 21 March 2016

21st March

Thorncombe Street

A weekend without a patch visit was followed by a brief trip today, with most of the usual things noticed. I could only find 2 Brambling on the Ridge, with no Yellowhammers present. This is probably due to birds moving away as the winter fizzles out, though it was a late visit today. Notable was a flock of 11 Grey Herons close to the road at Thorncombe Park. Many were high in the trees, and it seems like nest building was taking place. Odd, given the heronry is only over the road and beyond Allden's Cover to the west. Indeed, once on the Ridge and scanning the heronry, I noticed no birds on nests there.

Godalming area

In a similar vein to the patch, the wider area has been offering much of the usual birds during the past few days. 2 Bitterns roosted at Frensham Little Pond yesterday, and the Great Grey Shrike was again reported at Thursley Common on Saturday.

Hopefully migrants won't be far off, and the wind does look like it's changing for the better come the Easter weekend. The first county Sand Martin was seen on Saturday, with Garganey and Little Ringed Plover recorded today.

Friday, 18 March 2016

18th March

Cold, grey and slow starting but finally some real migration evidence today. A dawn start at Leith Hill for a tower watch didn't produce too much, though visibility was heavily reduced until about 08:30, when it began to clear. There were few signs of movement, though at least 20 Crossbills were nice, including a large flock that landed next to the tower, somewhat out of place in an oak tree. From there, I headed to Shalford water meadows with Matt, and a number of decent birds were clocked up, namely Firecrest, 3 Little Egrets and a Little Owl. Matt showed me some secluded, marshy habitat off the paths - I'm sure a wader or two will turn up in the coming weeks.
A hindered view from Leith Hill tower this morning

Thorncombe Street

The north-easterly wind had been bitter up the tower, and the overcast skies left me with little anticipation as we headed up the Ridge for a sky watch. Pleasingly, I was to be proven wrong. Mid-March to early April sees obvious Meadow Pipit movement on my patch, as the birds come in off the sea and fly the 30 miles north, just low enough to be seen and heard over the Ridge. I'd yet to have any waves this year, but it seemed some of the first big arrivals were happening on the south coast this morning. The eventual tally at Selsey was 625 (2,000 in an hour over Portland in Dorset!), and as the former site lies just to the west of a straight line from Thorncombe Street to the Sussex coast (Climping, to be precise), I speculated to Matt that we may get some of these Pipits over.

A few minutes on the top, and there they were, 4 squeaking Meadow Pipits flying high north! Truly amazing to be part of the jigsaw that makes up these birds migration. Shortly after another flock of 4 passed over, high and direct. Many more will pass through over Easter. At 12:15 Matt picked up a duck flying very high, and powerfully, south, to the west of us. Having watched 3 Mallards in the air moments earlier it became clear this wasn't another, and we noted a dark head and pale wings. Sadly, it was far too distant, and remains (yet another) patch one that got away. Personally, I think it was a drake Pintail.

Despite this minor frustration a year tick soon followed in the shape of a huge, adult Great Black-backed Gull. The bird was very high up, perhaps 1,000 feet from sea level, and it slowly continued it's journey north. From the English Channel to Scottish or beyond breeding grounds? Who knows. The usual fare was also present, raptors, Ravens and the Finch/Bunting flock, though the latter seems to be dropping in numbers. Only 4 Brambling were noted, though this included 2 singing males.

We descended, but pausing to scan the fields as we did. It would prove to be fortunate - almost out of view, Matt pointed out 5 Lapwings passing directly over where we'd been standing on the Ridge. Another year tick (83) and again more birds on the move - I only get Lapwings during the passage seasons. Migration is beautiful to watch - bring on a change of wind and some summer birds!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

15th March

When late news of a long-staying Little Bunting in the county emerged yesterday evening, I wasn't sure how to react. Surrey megas are few and far between - normally I'd try to get to the site as quickly as realistically possible, but of all the rarities to turn up, Little Bunting was a bit different. With the last record in 1995, Matt Phelps and I recently submitted a description for one that flew over the Ridge, at Thorncombe Street, calling, on October 24th last year. In our minds it was this species, but its status means we await the verdict from the rarities committee.

Showy, but still out of my photography skills range
As a result, after fair deliberation, I decided to go for it. If I missed the boat, and our record then got rejected, it'd be too good an opportunity missed. The information was odd - it had been present for 9 days but only conclusively identified on Sunday (13th), with news going out late on Monday. No photographs, but apparently regular behaviour meant Surrey listers would be out in force the following day. I chose to wait until news, and head over after work.

The site was Lady Place Farm, just north of Pyrford, where it was in with a big flock of Reed Buntings. Birders were there from dawn today, but it wasn't until 09:30 when it was seen, for no less more than 40 seconds. Mark Elsoffer and Steve Minhinnick were among the birders who reported it, but it's elusive nature was emphatic - 40 seconds of viewing in 4 hours. A further no sign notification flashed up around half one, but by this point I'd decided to go and meet Kevin 'Kojak' Guest, and later Matt, there.

When I arrived at 15:15 there were 6 birders on site, massively down from the 40 present first thing. It seemed the birds were also lower in number. Bramblings, Redpolls and 60+ Reed Buntings had been seen earlier but this wasn't the case by late afternoon. Linnets were prominent, and a few Buzzards were up, but there wasn't much else initially. I spotted Koje on the opposite side of the field the Bunting had been seen in, away from the other birders, and headed over to meet him, a confiding male Stonechat flitting around on the way.

Last men standing - a Little Bunting no show
With 227 Surrey birds on his list Kojak was hesitant about coming out for this one, and had already given the hedgerow of about 30 Reed Buntings a good going over since arriving at 12:30. The size of the site had surprised me - it was vast - and there were clearly birds moving around the patchwork of fields. 3 Lesser Redpoll were noted, and two each of Meadow Pipits, Red Kites and Egyptian Geese, but there was no sign of the Bunting. I picked out a female Reed Bunting with the intention of showing Kojak how their variable plumage could be misleading. By Matt's arrival at about 16:45 we'd completed a circuit, walked over the road, and weren't hopeful.

Another hour went by before we decided to call it a day. A bit of a needle in a haystack job, and there's no reason why it couldn't have simply moved from the regular site, and be re-found tomorrow. Time will tell, and Little Bunting remains very much in the balance for me.

With a bit of light left Matt and I decided to check out nearby Papercourt water meadows, as we were so close. A couple of singing Skylark were pleasing, and it wasn't long before I picked out a Short-eared Owl hunting distantly towards Papercourt Lock. Matt then got on it, and it seemed like a second bird was around, but we couldn't be sure. No Barn Owls, but we did have 2 calling Little Owls and a Water Rail. Best of all? A stunning murmuration of at least 2,500 Starlings. What do lists matter when you have spectacles like that in front of you?

Thorncombe Street

A flying visit earlier yielded a Peregrine SW over Allden's Cover, mobbed by a Jackdaw, a singing Skylark at the usual site near Selhurst Common and several Buzzards.

Sunday, 13 March 2016


I spent a couple of nights in Oslo, the capital of Norway, from Thursday to Saturday. This was mainly a city break instigated by ridiculously cheap flights (£20 return!) but it turned into a semi-birding trip, and I even managed to get a lifer in the shape of Hawk Owl. As a result, I've done a report which can be found here on Cloud Birders. As mentioned in the write up, a big recommendation to Simon Rix for anyone visiting Oslo. Below are a selection of largely rubbish photos I took.
Extremely close views of a Hawk Owl
Goldeneye were seen at a few sites

Oslo Fjord
Tree Sparrows were numerous in Oslo

Moose tracks
The most common bird seen

Maridalen (no Dipper)

Who's life ticked who?

A Goshawk nest

More Hooded Crows

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

8th March

Thorncombe Street

Since the thrilling Woodlark find on Saturday I've made 2 trips to the plantation at Selhurst Common, and I've failed to relocate the bird on both occasions. Perhaps it was just moving through, part of a local movement to Blackheath or further afield, though this species is normally on territory by now, so who knows. Perhaps I'll re-find it. Either way, both trips since have proved enjoyable. Yesterday I went a bit off-piste, circling the plantation (smaller than I thought), and today I just scanned from the gate, where, to my surprise, I heard another lark species singing away behind me.

I crossed the road, and scanned over the big meadow in front of me, the sweet sound of a Skylark wheeling away. I got my bins up and located the bird, which quickly chased after another over the grass, before flying back up and singing once more. I have never really paid this meadow much attention - normally, like much of the Wintershall estate, the grass is short and it's pretty barren, but it seems just long enough to entice these two songsters into a vocal dual this morning.

Skylarks are certainly pretty scarce on my patch. I can't have had many more than 5 last year, all of which in the passage seasons when birds move around. It's the first time I've seen a bird singing like that here and, like the Woodlark, I will keep my eye on this area to see if it sticks. Certainly, it's encouraged me to check out the last unexplored vestige of my patch, a path down through Scotsland Brook that eventually reaches Dunsfold. Maybe here I'll find some suitable farmland habitat.

Yellowhammer on the Ridge today (DC)
The sighting was part of a pretty brief drive around this morning, and nothing spectacular was noted, though a count of 13 Greylag Geese was high. I was primarily checking the gull flocks (numbers down, and fragmented) for the Mediterranean Gull Matt Phelps had over Shalford yesterday. Unsurprisingly I didn't find it, only 2 Black-heads among 80+ Common. After work though, when it was almost dark, I found myself racing to the northern boundary of Winkworth. Matt had heard a Water Rail in Phillimore earlier in the day and, not long after I played the call, 2 piped up from within the marsh - another welcome year tick.

In the middle of the day Dave Carlsson visited again, taking some more fine photos on the Ridge, with 5 Brambling and 12 Yellowhammer noted. The latter species is really surprising me - I had 28 there yesterday. Could they stay and breed?

Godalming area

As previously mentioned, Matt Phelps had a fantastic record of an adult Mediterranean Gull flying north-east over Broadford Marsh, at Shalford Water Meadows, yesterday afternoon. This species remains very rare in this part of the county. Elsewhere, there were 2 Bittern into roost at Frensham Little Pond last night, and the female Goldeneye was also reported. Another rare bird locally, a Short-eared Owl, flew over the bog at Thursley Common at 18:00 last night.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

5th March

Thorncombe Street

There are about 5 bird songs that I enjoy above all others. Blackcap, Nightingale and Blackbird are included, but perhaps top of the pile, just, is that of the Woodlark. Coming from this part of the country renders me fortunate enough to be able to hear their melody every year, with relative ease. From late February onward, a trip in calm weather to Thursley, or any of the other commons nearby, normally includes several of these wonderful songsters pouring forth their vocal magic into the air.

The southern part of the nursery that held the Woodlark
Away from their known breeding grounds in the county, Woodlarks are rare visitors, and unsurprisingly there are no historical records from my Thorncombe Street patch (including Winkworth). I have thought that a flyover migrant would not be impossible, but the idea of a singing bird really was very unlikely. 

In the far south-east of my patch there is an area called Selhurst Common, not much more than a road, a couple of houses and a signpost. However, decades ago, before trees and hedges took over, this was a 7.84 ha common, no doubt complete with gorse bushes and heather (much like other parts of my site). Indeed, there is a 1902 breeding record of Nightjar, so the habitat must once have been very different. This would be almost impossible to tell now but for a large stretch of conifer plantation just to the east of Selhurst, a tree nursery that reaches up to Grafham, with it's sandy base and low vegetation somewhat giving the impression of a heath.

Viewing is restricted, but I have on occasion stopped and scanned, and my first 2015 flock of Lapwing in early March last year encouraged me to check it out on a flying visit again late in the day yesterday, at the end of a non-birding day. I had been leaning on the metal gate just a couple of minutes when I heard the flutey song of a Woodlark. Surely not? There were 2 Song Thrushes singing nearby, and perhaps they were simply mimicking. This bird did sound much further away though, and sure enough the tumbling tones piped up once more. I still wasn't sure, as it seemed so unlikely, but after a short while at about 17:30 the bird appeared in the air, singing away. 

I couldn't believe it. Whilst Thorncombe Street is lacking in ornithological history it is still something to turn up a patch first - a singing Woodlark was totally unexpected! It was a moment that defines patching for me, stumbling across my favourite songster, on a flying visit after a miserable, wet day. Later research told me that they do indeed breed on forestry plantations and tree nurseries - it could conceivably stick, should it pair up. Amazing stuff. Woodlark now becomes the 138th bird on the patch historical list, and I will be back to check out the area tomorrow.

Reed Bunting on the Ridge today (RW)
Godalming area

The Ridge continues to attract birders and today Richard Waters visited, taking this photo of a Reed Bunting, with Brambling also present. Elsewhere locally Bitterns are still coming into roost at Frensham Little Pond (post soon!), the Great Grey Shrike was reported at Thursley today and a Firecrest has been showing well at Winkworth.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

3rd March

Thorncombe Street

A mild, sunny morning met with increasing levels of birdsong, creating a spring-like synergism throughout the valley today. Having given myself a later than normal start I was expecting raptors, and as I climbed up through Rowe Barn Farm I could already see 4 Buzzards circling above the Ridge.

These birds of prey thrive in this area, with plenty of suitable habitat not just in the valley, but to the north, south, east and west. I counted no less than 31 in roughly 2 hours, an incredible figure, with in excess of 10 displaying birds. Granted, I have the benefit of sky views reaching further than Guildford, beyond Blackheath, Holmbury Hill and Winterfold to the east, and down to Hascombe Hill, but it was still a high count, typical of early spring around here.

A sunny view over Bonhurst this morning
It was genuinely warm, and it wasn't surprising that plenty more raptors had taken to the air. 7 Red Kites were around, mainly over the Ridge but also at Bonhurst Farm, and 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Kestrels and a Peregrine were noted too, the latter disappearing over Furze Field for my third 2016 record. The usual fare were present - Ravens, Red-legged Partridges and the Finch/Bunting flock on the Ridge. David Campbell had 15+ Bramblings there yesterday, though I could only reach 6 today, with Yellowhammer more plentiful. Pleasing was the amount of this species singing, not just on the Ridge but also at Bonhurst.

Bonhurst has been taking my attention recently. The Little Owl pair were both in voice in the Poplars today, and I do think it looks good for my first Wheatear of 2016. Since I've been watching the area it's perhaps under-produced in terms of birds, the sheep and horse fields adjacent to the damp willow scrub yet to turn up a Stone Curlew or Black Redstart, my two dream birds for this particular bit of my patch. If either will happen, March is possibly the best month. A good number of Common and Black-headed Gulls were on the fields, and the Barnacle Goose was at Birtley House Pond with it's Canadian cousins.


2 male Reeve's Pheasants at Prestwick Farm today
I made a maiden trip to Holmethorpe Sand Pits later in the day, near Redhill, perhaps the most well known Surrey site I hadn't yet visited. A decent network of lakes, farmland and hedgerows revealed my first singing Chiffchaff of the year, a drake Shelduck on Spyne's Mere and, best of all, a female Scaup with many Tufted Duck on Mercer's West. Unfortunately the latter was distant and in poor light, often sleeping, rendering it very much a 'scope job.

Closer to sundown, back my way, I managed a trip to check out the Reeve's Pheasant at Prestwick Farm, near Grayswood. To my surprise there was 2 males, resplendent with their huge tail feathers, almost directly opposite the farm.

On Tuesday I enjoyed the mysterious sound of a migrating Bittern at Frensham Little Pond, but that tale deserves a post of its own.