Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

24th-28th June

Still relatively quiet on patch over the weekend and into this week, though a standout moment came late on Saturday (and again on the 26th), and a very pleasing number of Butterflies were recorded on Monday. The weather has been pretty mixed, with some recent heavy showers and windy spells, contrasting with the largely fine and sunny conditions on Monday.

White Admiral, Winkworth, 26th June
Saturday 24th

I awoke to news of a Red-backed Shrike at Thursley Common, and dragged my hungover self there at around 10:00, about an hour after it had been reported. Whilst having seen this species several times before, and not being a county lister, the idea of a short trip to watch my first Surrey Red-backed Shrike appealed. I teamed up with Rich S and Rich H, who'd arrived at a similar time, but it soon became apparent this bird wasn't going to be easy. 

Indeed, over the course of the next hour or so, we and several others managed to locate the finder, but not the bird. In fact, it wasn't seen again after the initial sighting, but classic Thursley specials like Dartford Warblers, Tree Pipits, Woodlark and a Hobby kept things interesting.

A flash through the patch afterwards revealed little, but an after-dark drive later on proved very productive. Several Tawny Owls were heard (including begging juveniles at 2 different sites), but the pièce de résistance was a beautiful Barn Owl, which flew over the road just south of Nadia's Hill. As I mentioned recently, there's been speculation from one of the gamekeepers that a pair has taken up residence at Combe Farm, not that far north from where this bird occurred. 

It's impossible to say if this was one of the alleged pair, and it's definitely true that Barn Owls are grossly unrecorded here. Whilst there isn't masses of good habitat, my return of 3 birds in the last 3 years (including this one) is dismal at best, and I will try and pin down this rumoured pair. At Selhurst Common, a striking female Common Glow-worm capped off a very enjoyable trip.

Sunday 25th

Very little of note during a quick patch visit. 30+ Mandarin on Mill Pond continue the recent large numbers here, and a Kestrel next to the A281 is significant for being one of so few seen this summer - this species has certainly declined here.

Marbled White, New Barn, 26th June
Monday 26th

This was a patch Butterfly day, and a good tally of 16 species were recorded in the sunshine. Highlights included White Admirals, Purple Hairstreaks and Silver-washed Fritillaries at Winkworth, and both Large, Essex and Small Skippers, Small Tortoiseshells and a good number of Marbled Whites at Hive Field/New Barn. Meadow Browns were everywhere, and Commas, Red Admirals, Speckled Woods, Small CoppersRinglets and Large, Small and Green-veined Whites completed the days list.

Later in the day, a brief visit to the Hambledon farmland yielded a male Yellowhammer seemingly taking food to a nest in a hedgerow, and still lots of Woodpigeons.

An evening Owl search on patch proved successful - 3 different species were recorded, including a couple of new sites with calling juvenile Tawny's and, best of all, another Barn Owl over the road. This second sighting in 3 days was not far from the Saturday bird, further south on the road towards Scotsland Farm. It now does seem likely a pair is established somewhere locally.

Tuesday 27th

A brief early morning drive through produced nothing of note.

Wednesday 28th

Another early and quick trip, with a similar list of birds. 15 Tufted Ducks on Mill Pond was a notable count, and the female and her brood of 9 were present. Interestingly it seems a female Mallard, who recently lost her only 2 ducklings, has taken it upon herself to assist the mothering of the Tufted Duck youngsters.

Friday, 23 June 2017

23rd June

There was quite a spectacle across the patch today with at least 500 Swifts filling the skies, a total that smashed the previous record of 100, which came at Winkworth on 27th July 2015. One feeding flock alone at New Barn consisted of 250+ individuals, and birds were seen pretty much everywhere throughout the rest of the site.

Swifts aren't actually very numerous here - there's no suitable breeding habitat, so normally the only big counts are made at passage times (e.g 100+ S on 27/7/2015, 33 NE on 5/5/2017). The birds today didn't seem to be moving. There was perhaps a slight westerly leaning, but I actually feel these were mass feeding flocks. I'm not sure why today was reason for such behaviour (weather wasn't that bad), but adults will travel big distances to collect food for their young when needs must, and given the Godalming/Farncombe/Bramley suburbia seem to have become Swift ghost towns today, my conclusion is thus.

Saying this, 2,000 moved south through Spurn yesterday, and 50 flew over Clandon today, so perhaps it was failed breeders linking up and slowly making an early exit from the UK? Who knows, but either way, it was quite a spectacle, and I wonder if I'll ever get such a count again here.

The Swift numbers were probably the highlight for David C and I today, as a 5+ hour session yielded little else of note, among 53 species. One of the Selhurst Common Spotted Flycatcher pairs showed well, but both the Little Owls and Ravens got stage fright the day the ultimate patch mega, another birder, was present.

Before he arrived I'd clocked a Common Tern at Bramley Park Lake, and 3 Gadwall and a Shoveler on Mill Pond, but unfortunately David only connected with the latter. Another pleasing sighting was that of a Skylark landing in suitable nesting habitat at Tilsey Farm. This species hasn't been proven to breed here since 2007, so fingers are crossed.

Generally though, it was quiet. Birdsong is dropping off, raptors and partridges are laying low, and Butterflies are often the more interesting things to look at. Oh what I'd do to have a marsh of some sort here...

Thursday, 22 June 2017

14th-22nd June

I've had less time on patch recently, often either a pretty brief early morning or late evening session. The general trend is one of quiet summer, and the heatwave this week has meant most of the hay fields in the south have been cut early, ending the optimistic Quail dream of recent weeks. With a very warm (31 celsius) Summer Solstice yesterday, my mind has tentatively begun to think towards return migration, and the last few July's here have produced some very good stuff.
Spotted Flycatcher, Selhurst Common, 14/6/2017

As mentioned, it's been quiet, and perhaps the best bird of the last 9 days was a Common Tern over Bramley Park Lake on the 15th, the 5th record this year. Given the Tuesley Farm birds spend their days fishing at Enton or Marsh Farm, the nest site of my birds is completely unknown.

Another notable record recently is the appearance of 1 (at least) female Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid, present on Bramley Park Lake on a couple of dates, including today. Presumably, Florence has hooked up with a Mallard, not totally surprising given her fondness for hanging around with this species. The hybrid is told by its more rusty plumage, and a stripe in the crown. Florence is still about, and was seen with a drake Mallard on Mill Pond on the 20th.

Sticking with ducks, a staggering roost count of 96 Mandarins was made at Mill Pond on the 18th, unsurprisingly a site record. Females seem to be using the safe and predator-proof pond as a post-breeding creche for their young, and many eclipse males have also pitched up, explaining the high count. 76 were present on the 19th, and the number has slowly dropped down since.

Gadwall, Mill Pond, 14/6/2017
Another extremely out of season Shoveler was present on the 20th, Gadwalls have been about on and off, and the first Tufted Duck young of the year were seen on the 19th, a pair looking after 9 ducklings. Today 4 Little Grebes, including 1 chick, were on the water.

A late night listen for Tawny Owls on the 16th produced 6 birds. A rare sight on the 21st was one seen in the day, flushed from its roost in Ridings Brook. The Wintershall gamekeeper has, somewhat remarkably, reported a pair of Barn Owls at Combe Farm. I'll investigate in the coming days, and it would represent a fine record if proven.

With things quiet on patch, I've taken the opportunity, on a couple of dates, to check out the state of the farmland birds around the Hambledon area. This completely un-watched neck of the woods has great potential, but I have (so far) failed in my attempts to locate any Quails, Lesser Whitethroats or Turtle Doves, despite perfect looking habitat. I was confident of finding the latter species when I stumbled across a feeding flock of about 400 Woodpigeons at Burgate Farm, but I failed to make out even a Stock Dove among the frenzy.
Little Owl, Thorncombe Park, 21/6/2017

Despite not finding any Lessers, plenty of Common Whitethroats seem to be kicking about here, along with Skylarks, Red-legged Partridges and, in the wooded areas, Spotted Flycatchers. Most pleasing, however, is the number of Yellowhammers. On Tuesday I had at least 3 singing males, including 2 at Burgate.

A few years ago, I chose to patch Thorncombe Street over this area. I wonder what I would have found if I had spent the same amount of time scouring the seemingly endless fields? There's so much land in Surrey that gets no attention from birders - I'm sure thing like Turtle Doves, Quails and Corn Buntings are out there, somewhere...

Thursday, 15 June 2017

2016 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report

The 2016 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report is now available.

Please visit this link for details.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

13th June

There were several notable sightings today, over the course of 2 sessions on patch. Again, ducks took centre stage, with 2 female Red-crested Pochards on Bramley Park Lake in the afternoon. The relative cover of the north shore allowed for some fairly close views, as well as this footage, as the birds fed quietly in the vegetated fringes, before flying to the south side of the lake. Their origin remains a mystery, but as time goes on I'm beginning to wonder if there was/is an ornamental pair on a private pond somewhere around here, and these perhaps are free winged young. On Mill Pond, a very high count of 32 Mandarins was made, mostly drakes either in eclipse plumage or moulting.

Spotted Flycatcher being pretty unspotted but catching flies
at Selhurst Common today
Bramley Park Lake was the more exciting water body today, with a Kingfisher also present this afternoon. Surprisingly, this is only the 4th record this year. A Cormorant was fishing, and there was one at Winkworth too, where a Marsh Tit was also knocking about. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came at Bonhurst Farm, in the shape (or sound) of a singing Reed Bunting. Remarkable not primarily for being out of season, but because this species has never been recorded here anywhere but the Ridge (wintering flock) or Winkworth (occasional outside the summer).

It seems there are in fact 2 pairs of Spotted Flycatchers nesting in ivy-clad walls at Selhurst Common. The site occupied last year was seeing a lot of action today, with food constantly being taken in, all whilst another pair were busy over the road. As things stand, there are at least 4 pairs across the site, but likely more.

Monday, 12 June 2017

9th-12th June

Since Bulgaria, I’ve managed just a handful of brief visits to the patch. Despite being June, ducks have taken much of the limelight, with Florence the Red-crested Pochard present again on Mill Pond on Friday, along with the eclipse drake Gadwall. A bigger surprise today came via a male Shoveler at the same site - a very out of season record, with no previous sightings of this species in the period from March until late August! Presumably, this bird was a failed breeder, and likely a second-year individual.
Florence at Mill Pond, 9/6/2017.

The highlight of the past few days, however, was the finding of a family party of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, which included 2 seemingly very recently fledged birds. The group was feeding silently, high up in the canopy, and only a vocal Great Spotted Woodpecker nearby brought them to my attention. It’s pretty certain this was the pair noted from February to April, and I’m delighted they were successful, particularly given how ridiculously elusive they became during the last couple of months. Unfortunately, despite extensive efforts by both myself and Gerry H, the actual nest was never found, and at one stage it was feared the birds had abandoned. Coupled with the steep decline of this bird nationally, it comes as a very pleasing record, and I can only hope the success is repeated in 2018.

Spotted Flycatchers have been somewhat slow coming in this year, but most pairs are now back on territory. The Selhurst Common birds have moved from the ivy-clad wall of one house to another, (showing well today), and the Phillimore site is occupied again. Elsewhere, it was very quiet, with the feeling of a sleepy summer day. Indeed, if anything, the Shoveler record points towards the arrival of autumn, and in a few weeks certain species will begin to move south. July has seen a few good bits before, including a Marsh Harrier and a flock of Whimbrel in 2015.

On Saturday, Matt P and I indulged in a thoroughly enjoyable twitch of the Elegant Tern at Pagham Harbour. Positioned on Hayling Island in the morning, we were quick to act when news broke of the birds reappearance at Church Norton, and we ended up enjoying pretty good views of the individual previously ringed at Banc d’Arguin, France (a site I visited last summer).

Red-footed Falcon, Frensham Common, 10/6/2017
Before we set off for the south coast we’d managed to squeeze in a look at the mighty-fine 1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon at Frensham Common, which somewhat surprisingly represented the first twitchable Surrey record of this species, after brief birds at Ranmore Common, Unstead Sewage Farm and Winterfold in the past 25 or so years. The individual was the latest off the Shaun P conveyer belt of excellent finds, with the long-staying Long-tailed Duck causing Surrey listers to twitch this far south-western part of the county only a few months back. The bird was his 203rd at Frensham, out of a historical total of around 230 (I can’t remember the exact figure he told me!).

The bird drew a big crowd, and continues to do so up until today at least, when it was present for its 3rd day. No doubt my Rosefinch at the start of the month would have brought people to Thorncombe Street – the all too fleeting nature of that bird still grates, and probably will do so for some time, or until I can avenge it with a find that sticks.

Friday, 9 June 2017

5th-9th June

Whilst not a Western Palearctic list-building trip, a few days spent in central Bulgaria proved fairly productive and certainly very enjoyable from a birding perspective. I was pleased to get two lifers, in the shape of Syrian Woodpecker and Sombre Tit, and there was a supporting cast of decent eastern bits, such as Black-headed Buntings, Barred and Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, Isabelline Wheatears and Lesser Grey Shrikes. Throw in plentiful numbers of farmland species seemingly in rapid decline in the west, and a very respectable list of 81 birds was attained.
Lesser Grey Shrike, Sokolitsa, 7/6/2017

We stayed in the proud town of Kalofer, at the foot of Mount Botev, and birds around the town and hotel included Golden Orioles, Nightingales and, best of all, a couple of Syrian Woodpeckers. The focal point of the trip was to climb Botev, 2,476 metres tall and the highest mountain in the Central Balkan range. This was achieved (extremely tough!), and birds in the treeline and adjacent scrubby plateaus included Sombre Tits and Barred and Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, as well as large numbers of Red-backed Shrikes, Wood Warblers, Hawfinches, Woodlarks and Rock Buntings.
There was only a small amount of time for birding, but a couple of hours in the scrubland and farms surrounding the village of Sokolitsa was excellent, not just for the quality of the species but also the densities. Tree Sparrows, Corn Buntings, feldegg Yellow Wagtails, Red-backed Shrikes, Hoopoes and both Calandra and Crested Larks were numerous, with Quails audible and a couple of Black Storks overhead. The grassy plains to the west of the village held a large number of Isabelline Wheatears, including recently fledged young, as well as European Ground Squirrels. A pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes showed well in the hedgerow at the south of the village, and a couple of Black-headed Buntings were surprisingly elusive in the crop fields to the east. Presumably, singing had largely ceased for this species by now.

Black-headed Bunting, Sokolitsa, 7/6/2017
With the great help of Dimiter from Neophron Tours, we were given gen for an Eastern Imperial Eagle site. Unfortunately, limited time and a lack of ‘scope put pay to the chances of finding this would-be lifer, but a sub-adult Golden Eagle here was some compensation. During the course of the other days, a few farmland areas were checked out, most of them bursting with the commoner of the aforementioned species as well as Turtles Doves and Grey Partridges.

This part of the world is obviously one of the economically less-off in Europe, but the people were very friendly, and tolerant of our limited/largely non-existent Bulgarian. As for the prices, a pint cost around 70p, a coffee 65p and most meals (2 courses) were around £5. The hotel cost £11 a night, each. With the quality of the birding inland this good, I’m sure the Black Sea is as good as its reputation suggests, and I’ll definitely be back to check it out one day.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

4th June

Pallas's Sandgrouse, Alpine Accentor, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Rose-coloured Starling, Great Reed Warbler, Green-winged Teal, 19 raptors (including 3 Eagle species), 4 Auks and all 5 European Rails/Crakes...
Spotted Crake, Unstead, September 2010 (KG)

No, not a productive sky-watch from the Ridge, but a selection of some of the more mouth-watering of the 255 species that have been recorded in the Godalming area. Area definition? A 3.5 kilometre radius of the town centre, which incorporates a surprising mosaic of different habitats and well-watched patches. Assembled largely for fun, I was thinking the list would hit 200, but never expected the figure to be quite so high. I reckon there are 3 main factors behind the big tally, which are explained below.

1. There's a big variety of habitats in the 3.5 km circle. You have heathland, woods and copses at different elevations, big lakes, a river and adjacent meadows, marshland and pools, farmland etc. None of the sites are particularly premier, but the area does seem to be a microcosm of the wider county. Think Witley Common as a poor mans Thursley, Enton Lakes the little brother of Frensham, and Unstead a tiny slither of Beddington, for example.

2. The coverage during the last few decades (arguably the last half-century) has been very high. Chiefly, this is down to two stalwarts, Brian Milton at Unstead and Eric Soden in the Milford/Enton/Tuesley area. These two sites have turned up pretty much all the modern-day rares, and a lot of them have been found by the two aforementioned gentlemen. 

3. A lot of people shot/killed stuff in the Godalming area pre-1900. This accounts for a fair few of the more exotic records (such as the Sandgrouse, Accentor and two of the Eagles), and it certainly seems birds 'collected' in the Godalming area back in the day is much better documented than other parts of the county.

The famous Hydestile Red-footed Falcon (& friend), seen
twice at Unstead after its release at Thursley in 1998 (DMH)
Unfortunately, there's a bit of an elephant in the room in regard to the list, and that's Unstead and the Surrey Bird Club rarity committee's non-existent relationship. It's a long story (that began with a Sabine's Gull in July 2000) but, in short, for the last 17 years Unstead records simply never got submitted. This means a number of birds that only feature on the Godalming list because of one-time records from Unstead have a certain awkward feel about them - Long-tailed Skua, Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite and Icterine Warbler are some examples.

Anyway, back to the patch and today, when a brief visit yielded no additions the Godalming area list. Indeed it was quiet - a 'sweeo-ing' Chiffchaff was taking food to a nest at Junction Field, the drake (though currently looking like a female) Gadwall at Mill Pond was present and a Garden Warbler was heard. Highlights as follows:


Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 3 Mandarins (♂♀♀ + 3 ducklings), 1 Grey Heron, 5 Tufted Ducks (♂♂♂♀♀), 2 Mute Swans and 1 Blackcap.

Thorncombe Street: 2 Red-legged Partridges, 3 Swallows, 1 Buzzard and 1 Blackcap.

Junction Field: 1 Garden Warbler, 7 Swifts, 6 House Martins, 2 Buzzards, 5 Chiffchaffs and 4 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 15+ House Martins, 2 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

3rd June

A pretty diverse and surprising cast of birds in a split day today. The notable westerly, certainly at elevation, was mixing things up a bit and loads of House Martins and Swifts looked to be moving through, pretty late in the season. I'm not sure which was more surprising out of the reappearance of the extremely elusive (and now seemingly resident) female Red-crested Pochard on Mill Pond this morning, or the 3rd-summer Lesser Black-backed Gull that became the first June record when it flew west over Junction Field. Highlights as follows:

07:45-08:30; 14:30-16:20

Mill Pond: Red-crested Pochard (♀, E side c.07:50), 1 Gadwall ♂, 3 Tufted Ducks (♂♂♀), 11 Mandarins (9 ♂), 1 Grey Heron and 2 Mute Swans.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 1 Grey Wagtail, 7 Swallows and 2 Red-legged Partridges

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Whitethroat, 20+ House Martins, 4 Linnets, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Junction Field (15:05-15:50): 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd-summer W c.15:15), 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 40+ Swifts, 20+ House Martins, 10+ Swallows, 7 Linnets, 10+ Buzzards, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Friday, 2 June 2017

2nd June

Just the morning on patch, mainly an unsuccessful second search for the Rosefinch. In the process 3 Little Owls were noted, suggesting both pairs are now feeding young, 2 Egyptian Geese were at Wintershall, the Gadwall pair remained on Mill Pond and the first Pied Wagtail young of the year were at Bonhurst Farm. Highlights as follows:

07:35-08:40; 09:45-11:00

Mill Pond: 2 Gadwall (♂♀), 2 Mute Swans, 4 Mandarins (♂♀♀♀ + 7 ducklings) and 1 Grey Heron.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 4 Mandarins (♂♀♀♀ + 5 ducklings), 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Thorncombe Street-Lea Farm: 2 Egyptian Geese, 2 Little Owls (Thorncombe Park and Gatestreet Farm), 7 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Swallows, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Little Owl, 2 Red-legged Partridges,  4 Linnets, 15+ House Martins, 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.