Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 28 August 2017

21st-28th August

August has been a hugely successful month so far, with a grand total of 7 year ticks, 2 of which came this weekend. Even more remarkably, both of these were new birds for the site, a real feat, but as the last Bank Holiday of the year comes to a close I have slightly mixed emotions about my weekend on patch.

Common Buzzard, Allden's Hill, 28/8/2017
I'll start with the positives, which, when all is considered, outweigh the negatives considerably. Having neglected Allden's Hill somewhat during the second half of the year, I decided to sky-watch from there on Saturday. It was warm, and the skies were cloud-free. Inevitably, lots of raptors were up, and I enjoyed 6 different species on the wing, including some really fantastic views.

However, movement of any sort was at a premium, despite a gentle northerly, and the whole day had been very quiet. As a result, it came as quite a surprise when I picked up two waders towards Hascombe at 14:08, flying fairly quickly north through the valley. Initially appearing like giant Pratincoles or, at times, even Terns, I got my telescope on them and managed to get an idea of the shape and size I was dealing with.

They were about the size of a Stock Dove, and during early views I could rule out both Godwits and Curlew/Whimbrel, all species I've seen over the patch in recent months. A prominent bill could be made out, as well as trailing legs, and they both appeared notably angular. However, the birds were moving fast and I was struggling to get any colour or plumage details. Based on the size these weren't Tringa Sandpipers, and it was evident I was looking at shanks of some description.

Above Thorncombe Park, their powerful flight suddenly turned into a semi chase, and they tumbled down several feet, before continuing north. At this point, I could clearly make out dark upperwings, with no white, effectively ruling out Redshank. About 3 minutes after I found them, I lost the birds to the north-west.

I spent several minutes going over my notes, and consulting a couple of friends - ultimately it came down to eliminating Spotted Redshank, which I did based on the fact the legs didn't trail as much as they do in that species, as well as the general jizz of these birds. So, I concluded that these were a pair of Greenshanks, a huge surprise, and not one I had on my radar for the patch!
The view from Allden's Hill, 28/8/2019

Upon reflection, it should have been clearer earlier that these were Greenshanks. They were the perfect size, and a powerful and direct flight on dark, plain wings, should have ruled Redshank out long before I actually did. The pair were not as compact as the latter species, either.

This, and the raptors, were massive standouts on a quiet day, and in a really weird turn of events the birding on Sunday took an a very similar format. A dawn start had produced very little - one of the negatives of the weekend was the complete dearth of passerine migrants. I'd spent a week in the office reading about peoples Whinchats, Redstarts etc, but there was just nothing in the bushes or on the fences all weekend.

Having walked from Slade's Farm to Bonhurst, I was heading back, when I picked up yet another wader, this time moving high south-east. The bird was stockier than the Greenshanks, and had a slower flight, but it was at a serious height and as essentially a silhouette. Sadly, that's pretty much all it will remain - a wader shape, maybe a Redshank, but certainly not something I could identify.

I didn't spend long deciding to let it go, and become another one that got way, a topic I blogged about last week. With that very blog post in my mind, a ridiculously ironic moment then occurred on the Ridge on my way back to the car. A large, juvenile Gull was flying low south, towards me, and something about it got my alarm bells ringing.

I raised my bins to it, and instantly was drawn to it's smudged, dark brown eye mask, on a bright white face. It was a big juvenile, and thankfully it slowed and began to circle, right in front of me. At this point, I could make out a pale gap in the middle of the inner primaries, as well as a crisp tail band. It was almost the perfect example of a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull!

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Ridge, 27/8/2017 - amazingly,
it's somehow not the worst photo I've ever taken.
I'm normally pretty hesitant with Gulls, particularly young ones, but having spent a fair amount of time learning about this species and age during the last few months, I was sure of the ID. The bird gained height as it circled, allowing for several checks of the inner primaries, and I only thought to try and get a photo as it was already on its way south, hence the (typically) rubbish image.

Yellow-legged Gull now has the honour of becoming the 150th bird species recorded here, my 137th, and the 115th of 2017. To put the latter figure into context, my entire total for 2016 was 115! A fantastic couple of days, with what was really a minor frustration of the mystery wader, became just that touch more tainted today when, freakishly, another wader flew over, escaping identification.

I was on Allden's Hill again, in unseasonally hot temperatures, when the bird flew east, and away from me, at 12:18. It was exceptionally similar to the wader yesterday, and I could make out a white rump, but that was it, and it disappeared towards Cranleigh. It was probably a Redshank - the size was good, as was the compact shape, slower flight and white rump - and I'm 95% sure it was this species. However, I can't be certain with the views I had, and so it's another to go on the one that got away pile - indeed, it can replace the entry for 5th I did last week!

In keeping with the rest of the weekend passerine activity was quiet, though during a 3 1/2 hour vigil I did manage 3 Yellow Wagtails, 23 House Martins and 71 Swallows south, as well as a Spotted Flycatcher briefly in the hedgerow, and another fine ensemble of raptors. To top off an eventful day, I was near-certain I'd found a Garganey on Mill Pond, which disappeared into the vegetation for 20 or so minutes. Wanting to be 100% sure, I waited until it came back out, discovering it was in fact a Teal! As Eartha Kitt once said, my tombstone will be my diploma...

So, two patch lifers, and new additions to the Thorncombe Street list, but tempered by two ones that got away. This wader influx really is unprecedented, but there are theories, provided by myself and others, which I'll go into in more detail soon (in short my patch is the only obvious gap from the perspective of a bird that's above the Middlesex reservoirs and looking south!).
New Barn pond, 28/8/2017

I need just 3 more year ticks to break the previous record of 117, but with time on patch during the week becoming less and less this won't be easily accomplished. However, August has given me a huge helping hand, and as we begin to enter the business end of the Autumn migration period, anything is possible...

Away from the patch scenes, one of my most memorable twitches for a while took place on the evening of 21st, when a race down to Portland, Dorset, secured views of England's first Yellow Warbler. On 27th, while in Sussex, we deviated to visit the Melodious Warbler at Beachy Head.