Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Sunday, 31 December 2017

28th-31st December

I've managed to get out a bit during the last couple of days, including the Isle of Sheppey yesterday with Matt P and Robin S, where we amassed 81 species. Among the birds we saw was a very teasing Common Buzzard (for me), which attracted and held our attention for quite some time, as we tussled with the idea of a juvenile Rough-legged. Closer to home, I've managed a few, brief, patch visits. An area that's been catching my eye during this past, rainy week is the River Wey water meadows west of Unstead Sewage Farm - the water levels are very high, and birds have moved in.
The bird in question...seems to lack a dark belly, but is
that because of pale feathered tarsi? It seems unlikely. Pale
lateral crown & uppercheeks look good, as does the dark patch
around the eye. However, the structure's off, and where are the
 pale/defined upperwing coverts? Also, is that a chest band?

30th - Isle of Sheppey

Always windy, but some good birds. We spent most of the daylight hours birding and managed to see 3 Lapland Buntings, 3 ringtail Hen Harriers, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a Hooded Crow, as well as bits like Bearded Tits, Greater White-fronted Geese, Corn Buntings and a ridiculous amount of Marsh Harriers.

At the raptor viewpoint I picked out a Buteo species sitting on a fence. It had a striking white head, and given that this was on Sheppey in January I mentioned to the others to get on the bird. Gradually, what seemed to be features that pointed towards Rough-legged Buzzard revealed themselves, to us and another chap who'd seen the juvenile bird which was present earlier in the month. First the obvious white head, then the striking white tail with black terminal band, followed by (when it eventually flew), apparent thick, wrist-like carpal patches and pale upper primary patches.

During the 20-25 minutes we had on the bird it was frustratingly distant, and I couldn't personally clearly make out a dark belly. The bird hovered a bit, but when it completed a second, longer flight circuit I mentioned my revised thoughts on the white upper primaries, which didn't look as good this time. The bird dropped into a field, and wasn't seen again.

Now everyone's seen pale or plain weird Common Buzzards before, but this bird certainly was striking in that it seemed to tick plenty of Rough-legged boxes. Before we'd all had time to sit and critically assess what we'd seen people on Twitter were denouncing Matt's report and record shots (which I'm sure he won't mind me using), all without offering any educational or informed ID feedback.

Close, but no cigar?
Personally, whilst it looked good in the field, the lack of really striking upper primary patches and, more pressingly, a lack of pale/defined upperwing coverts leave me on the Buteo buteo side of the fence. Furthermore, the structure doesn't look great in the photo, and the dark belly (which wasn't overly apparent to me in the field) can't be seen. It could be argued that the pale, feathered tarsi is what's blurring this, but it's impossible to say from the photo.

All very educational, and I've been at Choseley Farm in Norfolk before and watched people tick Common Buzzards as Rough-legged. Unless seen well, and ideally in flight, they remain hard to ID, and certainly had me thumbing through Forsman for a few hours. Interestingly, a/the juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was reported today from the same site (this after the last report came in early December...).

28th-29th and 31st - patch and Unstead water meadows

Not heaps to report with brief visits. I had single Hawfinches on the 28th (over Allden's Hill) and today, at Mill Pond. I expect to get Hawfinch on my 2018 year list! I also had the 6th Little Egret of 2017 on Mill Pond this morning, marking the best year for this species here. Otherwise, the usual fare, before everything is reset tomorrow. What a year it's been here - 123 species the total. My yearly review will be published next week.

Lapwings & Black-headed Gulls, Unstead water meadows,
The water meadows that flank the River Wey, west of Unstead sewage farm, have taken a large amount of rain in recent weeks and water levels are now the highest they've been for several years. What it's created is similar to a mini Pulborough Brooks, and during the last week up to 100 Canada Geese, and smaller numbers of Mallards and Teals have moved in.

Today, I counted a whopping 74 Pied Wagtails in the main flooded field. Also present were singles of Little Egret and Grey Heron, with a pleasingly high number of Lapwings (48) and 11 Greylag Geese. With a wet week forecast the levels should remain high, and a cold snap at the weekend could bring in something smart, such as a Pintail or Golden Plover. In the 1950's and 60's when these meadows flooded, Whooper and Bewick's Swans were almost regular...