Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 31 December 2018

Kent double-date

With a welcome break over the holiday period I’ve managed to get some enjoyable winter sessions in. It wasn’t just throwing bread at gulls in Sussex though; I’ve also thrown bread at gulls in Kent … and done some proper birding too! I really like the north Kent coast and a big winter day there appealed, with some nice targets and opportunity to explore mixed together, so on 29th I headed up for dawn. In total I managed 95 species which I was really pleased with, particularly given they included some tidy bits including Ring-necked Duck, Rough-legged Buzzard and Lapland Bunting.

Elmley, 29/12/2019.

I started at Elmley at sunrise, though there wasn’t exactly much of that on a particularly gloomy day. However, evocative post-roost streams of wildfowl soon illuminated proceedings, along with Marsh Harriers and hundreds of Lapwings, and smaller numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Golden Plovers. The safari-esque drive-through to the car park is always a treat here. Next up was Capel Fleet, where a Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported the previous day. I spotted a/the pale Common Buzzard at mighty range but little else, save five Corn Buntings and a female Stonechat.

Wigeon, Elmley, 29/12/2019.

It was then on to Swale NNR, passing big flocks of roadside thrushes, scenes currently absent from patch. Here, a field stalking egret turned out to be Little – we’re almost getting to the point where one in such habitat is expected to be Cattle. On the reserve a large portion (156) of the wintering flock of Eurasian White-fronted Geese were showing fairly well in a crop field next to the path. Further back were three other Goose species, including my first Kentish Pink-footed.

Little Egret, Sayes Court, 29/12/2019.

Eurasian White-fronted Geese, Swale NNR, 29/12/2019.

The Capel Fleet Rough-legged was reported again so we headed back, only to find an empty watchpoint and the pale Common Buzzard showing a little better … as I understand it, the RLB sighting was later withdrawn. Three Snipe and a Grey Wagtail flushed from a ditch here were the only ones of the day. With a Rough-legged Buzzard currently being watched at nearby Chetney Marshes we dashed there, and upon arrival a band of very helpful birders quickly got me on the distant individual. Only my second British Rough-legged, though the views weren’t fab …

Rough-legged Buzzard, Chetney Marshes, 29/12/2019.

Continuing west I checked various marshes and stretches of mudflats, picking up several common waders, before the urban setting of Chatham was punched into the sat-nav. A Black-throated Diver had taken up residence in the marina here but I dipped, though was cheered up by a Shag. An English-ringed Black-headed Gull was also knocking about.

Shag, Chatham Marina, 29/12/2019.

The penultimate site was the Hoo Peninsula. I’ve never really warmed to Cliffe Pools, despite recent sun infused memories of my first Marsh Sandpiper there, and I have to say the it was pretty bleak this particular day. That said, I managed some good day ticks: three grebes (Black-necked, Red-necked and Slavonian), seven Bewick’s Swan, Goldeneye and Yellow-legged Gull. Most of the afternoon was then spent exploring Grain and the northeast section of Hoo. This area is much vaunted by Sam J as an under watched one with bags of potential and it was on my autumn radar, though I never found time to visit.

It’s a wild and somewhat remote area – I can think of few places that evoke such a similar feeling in the southeast. A ringtail Hen Harrier had welcomed us in near Cooling but it was the seawall along the Grain Coastal Park car park that delivered the bird of the day: Lapland Bunting. I flushed it and two Skylarks inadvertently and it called several times as it flew northwest, before dropping down. I couldn’t re-find it. A Barn Owl quartered nearby.

Ring-necked Duck, New Hythe, 29/12/2019.

I only self-found Lapland Bunting for the first time in Lewis in October, so this was more than satisfactory.  I later learnt this species used to winter here in numbers, but they are rare now. With the light already fading it was a race to New Hythe, where a drake Ring-necked Duck had pitched up on one of the fishing lakes near the station. I eventually found him (asleep) but the views were naff, and to be honest I was happier with the late additions of Long-tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Jay, Siskin and Greenfinch to the day list.

So, a top day out, and if one factored in a decent inland site and watched the sea for a bit I imagine 100 would be doable. Things I missed out on included Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Red-throated Diver and Sanderling. A lot of racing around and walking had taken place, so the following day called for something far more relaxed …

Caspian Gull, Dungeness, 30/12/2018.

With several reduced loaves on the back seat it was a late start at Dungeness, where I had a couple of hours to spend with the gulls. There were a lot more around than I’d expected, and it didn’t take long for a first-winter and fourth-winter Caspian Gulls to appear. The latter flew off and wasn’t seen again, but the former performed well, dominating dibs on the bread and making lots of noise.

Caspian Gull, Dungeness, 30/12/2018.

The bird was a bit of a beast really and stood out like a sore thumb, with a whacking great bill and extensive tail band, as well as lovely cold grey scapulars and neck shawl. It seems remarkable this species was considered a type of European Herring Gull until recently …

Caspian Gull, Dungeness, 30/12/2018.

The light wasn’t on my side at all and the photos aren’t the best, but forgive an image overkill of a beautiful gull. There wasn’t so much time for birding after this so I skipped the reserve, though had any Smew been in this bypass would have been tested big time. Incredibly, none have been recorded this winter, at what’s a nationally significant site. I really don’t like these increasingly mild winters.

Caspian Gull, Dungeness, 30/12/2018.

Aside from Kent and the Sussex gulls there’s little else to report, though I made the annual pilgrimage to the Arun Valley Bewick’s Swans on 27th. I saw four, distantly from Burpham church, though pleasingly Gareth J had eight today. That’s pretty much it for the holidays really, a feast of birds and some enjoyable trips, leaving me ready to get on the 2019 patch grind.

Bewick's Swans, Burpham (Sussex), 27/12/2018.

The forecasts, and extremely quiet day there today, suggest it’s going to be a humdrum start to the year Thorncombe Street. However, there’s only one thing for it, and in the words of Rihanna: work, work, work.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Jingull bells

 I spent a few days over Christmas down at my parents in West Sussex, near Climping. The seas were calm, so my attention focused on gulls. Large species were few and far between so there was, unfortunately, slim pickings. However, I never cease to be amazed by the number of Mediterranean Gulls in this part of the world. This was easily the commonest gull species, outnumbering Black-headed Gulls by about five to one.

Mediterranean Gulls, Felpham.

Below is a photographic look at some of the birds I encountered on the beach over the holiday period, mainly as a way for me to store photos, but they may be of interest to others.

Mediterranean Gull

1st-winter Mediterranean Gull, Felpham.

A slightly less advanced, 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull, Felpham.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Felpham.
This species is a favourite of mine, elegant and always a pleasure to see. At
least 150 were along the coast from Elmer to Bognor from dawn, feeding
in the shallows, before roosting offshore later in the day.
Abundant they may be here, but I've still to have one over the patch!

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gulls, Felpham.

Common Gull

Common Gull, Felpham.

Great Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backed Gulls, Felpham. 

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Beside the seaside

Earlier this week, before I fell heinously ill, I enjoyed a particularly pleasant half-days birding on the south coast. Abel B is relatively new to the area and birding ‘proper’, as it were, and the plan was to both show him some sites within an hour of home while simultaneously chalking up a few ticks for his life list. Despite wet and showery weather (it was awful for photography) we did well on both fronts, managing 76 species in a few hours in the field, six of which were lifers for Abel.

Cattle Egret, Sidlesham.

During the whole process I was taken back to that kind of middling period one has during listing/twitching, after you’ve seen most of the scarce stuff close to home, but before you’re ready to harvest the fruits of the bird news services; species that require local knowledge, or even the perusal of a book (those old things!). I was also reminded of how bird-filled and evocative the local stretch of south coast, particularly Chichester Harbour, is during winter, and that I should visit it more.

First stop, not long after sunrise, was Bedhampton. Here, next to a railway line, beside an ‘adult entertainment’ establishment and behind some plastic fencing was the town mill pond, on which a juvenile Ferruginous Duck had spent a few days. A somewhat incongruous location for what’s now a national rarity to turn up, but we persisted and eventually the bird swam into view. 

Ferruginous Duck, Bedhampton.

Unfortunately, it remained largely obscured and there wasn’t anywhere you could get a clear look at the bird, which was diving manically. I’ve only seen one Fudge Duck in the UK before but several abroad, and I must admit I wasn’t too impressed with its huge (Pochard-like!) bill with a black tip and sloping forehead. Given hybrids are more regular in Britain than pure Fudge’s, I uttered my uncertainty to a few who know far better than I, but it turned out I was pretty much alone with my view …

A Marsh Tit called nearby but otherwise that was it for a nondescript site, which offered hope that Mill Pond or Bramley Park Lake could one day reel in the big one (there is in fact a Victorian record of Ferruginous Duck at the latter site). From there it was down to Southsea Castle, for Purple Sandpipers. Alas, the tide was in and we dipped, but this was more than made up for with a superb flyby Little Gull, which quietly made its way east through a throng of hundreds of large gulls feeding in the surf.

Little Gull, Southsea.

The bird was a second-winter, the first time I’d seen this plumage, and was a most welcome surprise. It later turned out both an adult and first-winter had been reported from this site in recent weeks – is this sheltered stretch of coast a poorly-known wintering area for this species? A look through records from years gone by suggest this could well be the case. A Great Northern Diver flew east here too.

Next stop was Hayling Island, where a perfect cast of wintering waders and wildfowl greeted us, including my first Pintail in far too long. Our target here fell quickly as a distant Black-necked Grebe sat up for a bit off the oyster beds. We saw another later, closer in, as well as several each of Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye.

Green Sandpiper, Ferry Pool (Sidlesham).

One of my favourite places to go birding is Pagham Harbour and the surrounding area. It always omits a whiff of nostalgia when I visit, as I fondly recall trips here as a kid. The purring of Brent Geese is a welcome sound, and the scores of waders performed for us at Church Norton and Ferry Pool, where Abel managed a couple more lifers. Highlights included a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull, hundreds of Avocet, Grey Plover and Knot and a Green Sandpiper.

Cattle Egrets, Sidlesham.

Prior to this wader-fest we’d visited Church Farm, to the east of Sidlesham. Healthy-sized flocks of Chaffinch, Lapwing, Starling and corvids were great to see, but the showstoppers were a long-staying flock of Cattle Egrets. These charismatic birds were feeding around the cow pens and, while a little jumpy, they largely showed well around the busy farm. It was the biggest flock (10+) I’ve seen in Britain. I’m particularly fond of this species, thanks to two over the patch last year, a moment that puts a smile on my face whenever I recall it.

Cattle Egrets, Sidlesham.

With the southerly wind picking up we did a quick seawatch off Selsey Bill, but only managed a few distant Gannets. In all, it was a truly relaxing and enjoyable session in the field, and the type I must do more of.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Drop it like it’s hot

The post-Twite depression weekend was a steady one, with a bit of a mixed bag of weather providing samples of both midwinter and spring. It was largely wet and breezy, though a warm Sunday morning with bright sunshine prompted several species to drop their particular tunes, with Robins, Song Thrushes and Great Tits all in fine voice. I still await the first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of the winter though – always the first sign that spring’s knocking.

Greylag Goose, The Ridge, 16/12/2018.

As for that f****** finch, I relocated it ever-so-briefly on Sunday, with the Linnet lock, which has swelled to at least 114 birds (a record count here). The views remained inconclusive, but I did manage a snatch of sound recording of the bird in flight once the large flock had split into five or six smaller groups. It sounds Twitey, but the opportunity for that clinching view/shot remains out of reach.

However, I’m hoping it sticks … this may be a tale that eventually reaches a happy conclusion, be it in this year or next. Regardless, the flock of Linnets is in itself a most pleasing sight. Species diversity in the crops on The Ridge remains fairly low, and there are still no other significant flocks (Reed Bunting numbers in particular are well down), but hopefully this will change in the coming weeks.

Linnets, The Ridge, 16/12/2018.

Crossbills were recorded on both days over the weekend, Abel managed another Water Rail in Phillimore on Sunday and the Red-crested Pochard was present on Mill Pond early on Saturday. It’s all a bit winter-doldrums though and – barring some cold weather and a subsequent wildfowl influx – I suspect The Ridge is the place to be until the woodpeckers do start a’drumming once more …

Pied Wagtail, Bonhurst Farm, 16/12/2018.

It looks like I’ll finish on 118 for my patch year list, bar a highly unlikely stoppage time winner. To be fair it’ll feel more like an equaliser than a winner, or maybe even just a consolation: 2018 hasn’t been the best. My annual review will be up in a few weeks and the 2018 Thorncombe Street Area Report is already being typed up.

Common Gull, The Ridge, 16/12/2018.

One positive from the year has been the increased conservation and wildlife engagement by two estates in the area. Future plans paint a rosy picture for parts of the site, and while the proof will be in the pudding, I remain optimistic that important sections of land here can be protected and enhanced in the months and years to come.

Captive White Storks, 16/12/2018.

Friday, 14 December 2018

101 Linnets (and a probable Twite)

A totally frustrating and draining few hours on The Ridge yesterday. There's no point going into it too much, but I had four or five very brief views of what looked fine for a Twite – bright yellow bill, buffy wash to the face and underparts etc. By very brief I mean about 30-40 seconds worth of views in four and a half hours of patiently watching. The bird was with a flock of 100+ (I counted 101 but there were probably more) Linnets on the north crop but fed out of view about 99 per cent of the time, flying to the large tree on the east side when flushed, before piling back down again minutes later.

Probable Twite (clearly showing a cute, bright yellow bill, less streaked
underparts and less pale under the eye), The Ridge, 13/12/2018.

Despite the elusiveness, I managed three shots, all from the same angle. The yellow bill is clear, and it seems the bird had less pale under the eye and less streaked underparts. I didn’t see if the throat was streaked. Incredibly, Abel headed up later that day and thought he saw a Twite, before I’d even mentioned it to him … he was up again this morning, along with Steve C, but neither connected and apparently the flock hardly showed, feeding down low after a freezing cold night.

As I said, it looked fine. Pretty much everyone I consulted agreed. If I was up north or on the east coast I’d have no hesitation. To be honest I don’t know why I hesitate now; the magnitude of the record and awfully brief and unsatisfactory views I guess. If anyone has any comments on the bird, please leave them below.

Linnet or Twite?

For some reason decent birds never seem to give themselves up fully here, whether it be brevity of view or a distant flyover. I can tell you it’s fairly demoralising, and symptomatic of what’s been a truly frustrating year, which has brought little patch cheer. I’ll give it another look tomorrow, but it seems likely this is yet another item for the overflowing bin of Thorncombe Street ones-that-got-away …

Monday, 10 December 2018

American dream

I didn’t get too much birding in this weekend. On Saturday morning I gave the patch a going over and it started well with a Peregrine fairly high southeast over Mill Pond not long after dawn. I find that this species is often up and at it early doors, but they remain rare visitors to the patch, this being the fourth record of the year. Low numbers from a Surrey/South-East point of view, but Thorncombe Street sits within a wider area that has a very low Peregrine population.

Lesser Black-backed Gull, The Ridge, 8/12/2018.

A blustery westerly meant a few gulls were passing over The Ridge. Four species (Black-headed, Common, Herring and – best of all – an adult Lesser Black-backed) were chalked up with the former trio all on the deck at Bonhurst Farm later. The crops on The Ridge remain desperately devoid of finches and buntings. I’m not sure if it’s a poor crop (it looks it) or the weather is still too mild, but I only managed a single Reed Bunting and 15+ Linnets. Hopefully numbers will pick up.

Elsewhere it was very quiet and my thoughts were drifting toward other things (not least the appealing line-up of football games on later) when pictures of a White-rumped Sandpiper appeared on Whatsapp, courtesy of Matt. It turned out he’d excavated an absolutely dream find on his Pulborough Brooks patch: an inland Yank that was just the 13th for Sussex, and the first twitchable bird in the county since the 1990s. His account of the day is well worth a read. I headed home for a coffee top-up before eventually deciding to head down to congratulate him and try and get some shots of the bird.

White-rumped Sandpiper (right-hand bird), Pulborough Brooks, 8/12/2018.

My one and only previous White-rumped Sandpiper was at Oare Marshes in Kent, during an almighty thunderstorm several Augusts ago. I got to Pulborough and the Winpenny Hide was already packed. I had a quick chat with Gareth before heading over to the main man who was kicking back in the corner – cup of tea in hand – looking particularly happy! Unfortunately, the White-rumped Sandpiper stayed very distant with a Dunlin (you won’t believe the extent of the crop in the above image), but it was good to be among the excitement. The find is just reward for a really dedicated hustle of Pulborough since he moved down last year and is proof, if ever it was needed, that you’ve just got to keep going in the patch game – any time, any place, it can happen.

A Marsh Harrier performed a close flyby not long before I left. I’ve aged it as a juvenile, mainly based on the fairly uniform plumage and dark brown tail, but also the relatively low-key pale carpal patch on the underwing and gold tips to the upperwing coverts, as well as a thin hand and bulkier arm. The yellow iris perhaps suggests it’s a male but I’ve no idea if that’s a thing in juvenile birds.

Marsh Harrier, Pulborough Brooks, 8/12/2018.

Marsh Harrier, Pulborough Brooks, 8/11/2018.

And that was pretty much it for the weekend. Abel brought up his century of Thorncombe Street birds by connecting with the Water Rails in Phillimore on Sunday, so congratulations to him. I hope some proper winter weather arrives soon as it might liven up The Ridge or Mill Pond, both usually key sites at this time of year. It’d be nice to think 2018 has one late trick up its sleeve. Matt certainly demonstrated that anything’s possible on Saturday, so here’s hoping.