Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


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.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

12th May

A Kestrel hovering over Allden's Hill
Spring is in in full swung on the patch. Birdsong is constant, with parents taking food to hungry young, and fledged birds of some species on the wing. All the summer migrants are now in – Matt Phelps had the first Spotted Flycatcher at Winkworth on Sunday (I’ve yet to see one in 2016). The Nightingale found on Clockhouse Lane on Sunday has been presence ever since, singing at different times of the day. It remains largely hard to see, showing only for brief periods. Hopefully a mate will appear soon. On that subject, today was the first in a while that the Slade’s Farm Cuckoo wasn’t at it full pelt. Maybe a female has arrived? There has clearly been an arrival of this species, with 2 different males singing on Monday.

Lesser Black-backed Gull flying east over Slade's Farm
At least 17 Greylag Geese were around on Monday, and this count excludes the non-viewable breeders in private Thorncombe Park. 2 Egyptian Geese were also noted, my first since March, and it looks like they might be nesting, which they weren’t thought to do last year. Red-legged Partridge numbers remain high – 10 the biggest number this week on the 9th. The exceptionally elusive Grey Partridge pair were seen briefly by Matt on Sunday, as they flew over the road opposite the Winkworth disabled car park, in the Wintershall part of the estate.

Today was another hot one, and with the whole day at my mercy I chose to spend most of it sky-watching from Allden’s Hill, with the Montagu’s Harrier still fresh in my mind. It was largely slow-going, however, with a steady trickle of Swallows, 5 Swifts, a late Meadow Pipit and a small Gull movement the only migration evidence. The latter featured 3 Herring Gulls (2 and 1) going E, with an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull later on being my 6th record of the year. The bird circled a couple of times over the Ridge before continuing in the direction of Winterfold.

All sorts of young birds are now on the wing 
Raptor numbers weren’t as high as Saturday, despite the favourable conditions. I won’t really be publicising much about these birds, and a few other species, as the breeding season carries on. With little in the air my attention was drawn to the numerous Sylvia warblers, particularly in the scrub on the southern side of Allden’s Hill. There are at least 2 Garden Warblers around, and one showed fairly well this morning, though I was too slow for a picture. A male Whitethroat was new here earlier, and at least 15 Blackcaps were around. I await my first Thorncombe Street Lesser Whitethroat.

A remarkable moment - Dunlin in Sainsbury's car park
Locally, an extraordinary event occurred yesterday, at the unlikely setting of Sainsbury’s car park, in Godalming. At around 11:00, following a shower, a delightful summer-plumage Dunlin appeared, and proceeded to feed in the puddles on the tarmac. It was clearly migrating, and the rain forced it down, with the vast concrete space perhaps resembling mud. Unperturbed by shoppers and vehicles, I enjoyed close range views for about 20 minutes. At around 12:30 it stopped in its tracks, called twice, before taking off high north. Sensational stuff! I’ve posted some more pictures into the gallery.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

1st-8th May

Thorncombe Street is experiencing a purple patch. In the 10 days since my last post, I've managed 6 patch year ticks, 4 of them coming this weekend. Remarkably, 2 of the ones seen during the last 2 days were patch life ticks. However, one of them blew the others out the water, and indeed eclipsed anything else I've found on my patch, providing me with probably my most thrilling and memorable moment in over 15 years of birding in Surrey.

On May 1st, it was a surprise to note a Yellow Wagtail calling, as it flew SE over Middle Copse field (near Wintershall). I'd seen and heard a couple at Tice's Meadow the day before, but to have one over a moderately wooded area was unusual. My best guess is that it had been on the cow field at Gatestreet Farm just up from Wintershall. On May 3rd, I was delighted to hear a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming and calling in a private area (which is the main reason I didn't put news out). These birds have become desperately scarce, and I imagine that this individual was an unpaired male. Matt Phelps had one at Winkworth in April, and it could well be the same bird, trying in vain to attract a mate. I have not heard it since.

A Greylag with Canada's at Gatestreet Farm on the 1st May
I got Black-winged Stilts on my Surrey list on the evening of the 4th, and on the 5th I was mainly out of the county with Robin Stride, (shamefully) twitching an Oriental Turtle Dove in Kent and enjoying a spectacular sea-watch at Splash Point, which included 3 Pomarine Skuas. Late in the day we did get out on Thorncombe Street, and heard one of the Firecrests on territory. With the forecasts for the weekend looking very good for migrants, with warm temperatures and prolonged sunny spells, I planned a sky-watch from Allden's Hill for most of the day on Saturday 7th. 

I woke to news of a Sanderling at a private site close to home, so popped over to check it out, bagging Common Sandpiper, Sedge Warbler and Cuckoo too. My new camera ran out of juice at this point, as I await the USB, so you'll have to wait for exceptionally average pictures of the Sanderling. I was on the hill by 10:30 and it was very hot, at least 22 degrees already, and plentiful Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were in full song, as well as 2 Garden Warblers giving it their all a few feet behind my seat. Most notable were the raptors, enjoying the thermals, with decent numbers of the 4 regular species (31 Buzzards, 4 Red Kites, 3 Sparrowhawks and 4 Kestrels). The Cuckoo was relentless from 10:30-14:30, singing for a few seconds at least every 15 minutes or so. Hopefully this warm weather brings in a mate for him.

I was enjoying the birdsong when, at 11:39, I picked up a high-flying raptor just to the left of my centre of vision, which was directly opposite Allden's Hill, towards Slade's Farm. My first thought was "that's a large Kestrel", and as I raised my binoculars to the bird it became instantaneously clear I was locked on to a Harrier. I stared and stared - yep, it was a Harrier. It had an exceptionally long tail and sharp, falcon like wings, but it was merely a silhouette as it cruised at a fair speed NW, and away from the sun. However, as it continued its path the light changed, and as I viewed the bird from underneath extensive dark on the primaries, as well as a clear dark-grey tone to what seemed like the entire underparts, and a seemingly dark tail, were in evidence. At this point I knew what it was, a species I'd seen plenty of just a few weeks ago in Spain - a male MONTAGU'S HARRIER

These cracking views were gone in seconds. The bird continued it's determined flight, disappearing out of view not much more than a minute after I first set eyes on it, without uttering one wing-beat. I was shocked. I still am, recalling this now. Had I not seen the plumage details for that short time, I wouldn't be certain, but the shape and time of year would have left it very probable. It was the wrong shape for Hen, and despite having never seen a male Pallid Harrier this bird was no way near pale enough underneath. I was frustrated my camera was out of battery, but I don't think I'd have got on it in time even if I could have done. I alerted a few friends ASAP, including Matt who patches directly NW of me, but unfortunately he was elsewhere at the time.

I later learnt that there was a small arrival of Montagu's Harriers in the south and east of England not just on the same day, but at the same time. Remarkably, a bird was reported at 11:35 at Titchwell in Norfolk, just 4 minutes before mine, and a female was seen in neighbouring Sussex at 12:20, only 41 minutes later. Truly incredible. Presumably, this bird came in off the sea earlier in the morning and just cruised northwards. I very rarely see local raptors so high over here. A county mega, on the patch. I think there have been less than 20 vice-county records (may be wrong), and only 2 previously in the Godalming area.

Completely struck by this moment, I had a beaming smile on my face for the remainder of the day. The patch year tick of a Hobby less than 15 minutes seems a mere footnote now, the bird hawking for insects over Allden's Hill before drifting off SE, potentially a local bird back on territory as oppose to a migrant passing through. A steady stream of Swallows passed through, and at 13:15 I was gifted another year tick, 2 Swifts making their way W. Before I went out, 1 Swift would have made the day, so it seems bizarre that they were 3rd in the queue. To be honest, this whole day will go down in my minds folklore. I can't see it getting much better on the patch than 7th May 2016.

There wasn't much calm after the storm, however, as the next morning I was alerted to a Tweet that reported a singing Nightingale on Clockhouse Lane, Bramley, the south of which sneaks into the far north-west of my patch recording area. I decided to check it out in the late afternoon, and a brief walk down the path proved unnecessary as I heard the Nightingale singing quietly from brambles next to the car. It wasn't giving it full gusto, but I managed a brief recording. The bird also showed itself briefly, and I was delighted to gain another patch tick, for which many thanks go to Nigel Mathias. Nightingales bred near Scotsland Farm until the 1980's at least, but I've never had one before, or indeed visited this scrubby part of the patch. Maybe this purple patch will continue, and I'll find my first Lesser Whitethroat here?