Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Thursday, 23 March 2017

23rd March

Today represented a last opportunity to bag an early spring migrant, or finally nail Pochard this year, before I head off for a week's birthday holiday in Spain and Morocco. What was a rather quiet session ended with a massive surprise, in the shape of a Kittiwake, a new bird for the recording area and the fulfillment of my long-time dream of finding a seabird on patch (see here and here). An astonishing sight, as it journeyed north over the mixed woods at the extreme south of the area, the species becomes the 144th bird recorded here, my 129th, and number 89 for 2017, which is proving very fruitful thus far.

Kittiwake sighting map (click to enlarge)
I woke to rain, and the constant rather forceful north-easterly made for a morning more like Janaury than late March, but the skies began to brighten slightly as I, yet again, did a Winkworth check without any Pochard. I am now relying on chancing upon a bird later in the year, as the optimum time for this species will be gone by the time I am back. Numerous Chiffchaffs were one of few indicators of the season, though a surprising number of raptors were already up, and by the time I'd looped the patch Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Red Kite had already been noted. In the wind, Woodpecker activity was at a premium, and I expect it to continue to get harder to locate the Lesser Spotted pair. This was was the case today, despite a brief check by myself and an extensive one by Gerry Hinchon.

With numbers already looking good, and the possibility a northerly headwind sending something extra special over, I set up shop at one of my vantages in the south of the patch. On the way, two Lapwings flew south, only my third birds this year and the first flyovers. The regular Skylark was in occasional voice, despite the wind, and a few Marsh Tits were calling. Raptor numbers were steady, and I notched up a good tally of birds, but in truth little was happening, and there certainly seemed to be no passerine movement (0 Meadow Pipits compared to 31 on Tuesday). After just over an hour I decided to head home, and finish off a few pre-holiday chores.

Not long after I got back on the main footpath that runs from New Barn to Thorncombe Street, I noticed a small, slender gull heading fairly low north. As I was beneath it, I could only note the particularly buoyant and active flight as it made it's way between the footpath and Juniper Hill, always below the canopy. With my views obscured by the hedgerow, and as the flight and structure began to click, I sprinted up a raised bank on my right in order to get a view of this quickly moving individual. As I got back on the bird it had gained a bit of height (it was remarkably low when I first saw it, upon reflection), but it banked to the east, before circling a number of times, gaining height and continuing north. This change of direction offered me good views of the grey upperwings, that faded somewhat towards the typical jet-black primary tips of a Kittiwake! There were no mirrors on the primaries, though the flight style and structure already had me fairly assured. An exceptional moment, and the bird was lost heading north.

Red Kite on the 21st
It would have flown over Wintershall and Bonhurst, probably connecting with the Wey near Shalford. I messaged Gerry, who was on the patch, but unfortunately for him he was deep in a wood (2 Woodcocks flushed his consolation), and couldn't look at any sky. The bird was so out of context I was a little bit stunned at first, and tried to make it a Common Gull, but it clearly wasn't. This species is the most numerous winter Gull here, but their numbers have tailed off in recent weeks, and indeed I've seen none for over a 7 days. As the day went on, a Kittiwake was seen in London, and a conversation with Matt made me realise this was actually more likely than I thought, with the weather and time of year all perfect. Furthermore, Jeremy Gates had an adult go west over Crooksbury Common on Saturday. Right place, right time, and a bird I will be very lucky to see here again!

Brian Milton was among the other people I messaged, and despite Unstead being slightly to the west I desperately hoped he saw it, as it's one of the few species he is yet to see there that's on the historical list. Unfortunately, he hadn't, but when I stopped off briefly we enjoyed both of our first Sand Martins of the year over the works. Interestingly, he had not seen any Gulls all day. Later on at home, I noticed 2 Great Black-backed Gulls battling north. Clearly, there was some kind of seabird movement. I very much doubt I will have another day in Surrey when Great Black-backed and Kittiwake are the only Gulls I see in one day!

Since my last post, a Woodcock flushed in Furze Field on the 15th was only the third bird, and second record, of 2017 (until Gerry's pair today). I finally caught up with Kingfisher for the year on the 16th, with a bird calling in the fog at Winkworth. A second bird was then seen at the same place 3 days later. Also on the 16th were notable numbers of Fieldfare, Lesser Redpoll and Redwing, with a Crossbill present at Juniper Hill. A site record 14 Ravens were also tallied throughout the entire recording area.

I love this time of year, and it's hard to pull myself away from the any-time-soon arrival of Hirundines, the scouring of fields for Wheatears, and monitoring the state of the local breeders, new and old. The local area seems to be on a good run too, with Matt finding a fantastic pair of Garganey at Shalford on Monday, that are still present today. However, Morocco has long been top of my wishlist of places to bird, and this time next week I aim to be celebrating my birthday in the Sahara, hopefully surrounded by Desert Sparrows and Crowned Sandgrouse!