Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 10 April 2017

10th April

Since my return from a trip to Spain and Morocco (which was packed full of birds, including some really special Western Palearctic stuff) it's been quiet on the patch. In the 10 days since I've been back, the only passerine year ticks I've managed are Swallow on the 4th (pretty much daily since, with 34 through on the 6th) and Willow Warbler, with a tired sounding bird heard on the Ridge on the 8th. Whenever I come back from a trip the low density of birds compared to where I've been hits me. Surrey is relatively poor even within a national context, so compared to somewhere like Spain it can seem pretty bleak. And thus, during a spell of glorious weather, on Saturday I tweeted about yet another quiet shift on patch, with the fine conditions seemingly too good for migrants to pitch down. This lull would be turned on its head, however.
Red Kite over the Ridge on Sunday (DC)

It is remarkable how a number of tiny decisions and moments can culminate in being somewhere at a certain time. It was Sunday morning. Relatively hungover, the girlfriend and I were up early, and I wasn't too sure if I'd check the patch before work, particularly given the recent quiet spell. With the sun shining I figured it'd be rude not to, so off we set, stopping first at Mill Pond where I spent slightly longer than normal to enjoy a singing Reed Bunting, a first here, and the drake Gadwall that's trying to pair up with a Mallard. A quick check of Slade's didn't produce the hoped for Wheatear, and on the way back I bumped into Dave Carlsson, who was aiming to get some decent pictures up on the Ridge. As you can see, he got some amazing shots, and we chatted for a bit before I set off through Thorncombe Street, in the direction of Bonhurst. As we approached the Scotsland lay-by I, for some reason, thought it wise to stop. For the first time this year it was dry enough to park, and I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to walk Great Brook or Leg-of-Mutton Copse. The latter site I don't visit often - my last session here was March 16th, but she fancied it, in the hope of some Bluebell photography.

There wasn't a great deal of birdsong, and as we weaved through the deciduous part of the wood I pondered the chance of a Pied Flycatcher here later in the spring. We came to the felled area at the south of Juniper Hill, which looks out south towards Hascombe, and my attention was immediately drawn to 2 gleaming white birds flying high north. It didn't take long to figure there were Egrets, and the slightly jerky flight and dumpy appearance strongly suggested Cattle. Panic ensued, and as I got the bins on them the shorter legs and wings were noted, and the dumpy and rounded appearance was made clearer - it was quite apparent these were two Cattle Egrets! Given the many times I've seen this species, the ID was perhaps easier that one might imagine, and happy with what I saw I raced to get a shot before they disappeared over the canopy. I managed one poor effort (they were seriously high), and only after they'd left did I register that Cattle Egret is still very much a mega in Surrey. There are only 2 previous records, one of them coming only last December, via Steve Gale.
A crap record shot of the 2 Cattle Egrets moving
N over Leg-of-Mutton Copse on Sunday 9th April

I put the news out as soon as I had signal. Sadly Dave didn't have them over the Ridge (they would have gone that way surely), and Brian Milton didn't at Unstead. These birds were clearly on the move, no doubt using the southerly airflow to migrate. I was reminded of a snippet from Peter Alfrey's wonderful Non-stop Birding blog which he'd posted the day before in one of his weather forecast pieces - "Spring overshoot weather today and tomorrow- a southerly airflow drawing from Southern Europe which could bring southern scarcities such as Black-winged Stilts, Southern Herons, Quail etc.". As bonkers as it was, as completely unexpected as it seemed and in a place I would never have guessed, it was Cattle Egret that became the 145th Thorncombe Street area bird, and my 130th! Surely in a decade or two this species will become as regular as Little. After breeding success, colonisation was delayed following some severe winters around 2009, but this year saw record numbers in the UK, and I presume my 2 were movers from the wintering population. I expect another Surrey record before 2018.

So, with Spring slow to get going, and after some very quiet sessions, patience and perseverance was rewarded in style. My adoration for my patch was reaffirmed, and perhaps these two Egrets were a close to a chapter here. My working life is set to change hugely in the coming weeks, and with it my time birding will inevitably be cut down. Whatever the future holds though, April 9th 2017 will always remind me that you can never lose faith with the patch.