Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

28th February - Gold!

I’ll keep this midweek post brief, but the details are as such – a new Thorncombe Street species was found today, and not by me! The movement of Lapwings and Golden Plovers as a result of the Beast From The East was perhaps inevitable, but the numbers moving (largely south/west) through Surrey today was incredible, and the small band of county patchers/sky-watchers were swiftly on it.

Golden Plover, Nadia's Hill, 28/2/2018.
385 Lapwings and 24 Golden Plovers went through Capel, 229 Lapwings and 40 Golden Plovers passed over Clandon, 30 Golden Plovers flew west through Stoke Water Meadows and a staggering 617 Lapwings and 170 Golden Plovers moved over Canons Farm. Great stuff, but no fun for me stuck in the office, after a non-Golden pre-work session earlier.

Watching the tweets fly in was a bit grim whilst at my desk. Golden Plover is one of those species that was always due, but an influx/movement like this wasn’t going to happen again soon, and I felt like I was missing out. Enter local birder Abel B – new to the Surrey scene, he had enjoyed a maiden trip to Thorncombe Street yesterday and was back for more.

Then came the inevitable message – along the lines of “I think I’ve had a Golden Plover”, not long followed by “I definitely have one!”. He very kindly offered to grab me (thankfully I was working in Godalming), and with an hour’s lunch break to smash-and-grab, we set off.

Golden Plover, Nadia's Hill, 28/2/2018.
No joy on Allden’s Hill, where he had his earlier bird, but as I scanned down the valley it was clear there were loads of flocks to check through. We raced to Slades – none there, and then to Nadia’s Hill. Yes! There, with it’s gold-spangled upperparts like stars in a night sky, was a sole Golden Plover! Absolute joy – and the bird looked stunning in the sunshine, as it rummaged around for worms.

Pumped up, we decided to check the plover-appealing fields between here and Scotsland Farm, and in among another 60 or so Lapwings was another Golden Plover! This one uttered it’s plaintive, single-note call before doing a short loop, and re-landing on the field opposite Unknown Farm.

I wasn’t long before, sadly, I had to tear myself away. I know it’s just a Golden Plover, but all of this is why I bird, and why I patch. I can’t thank Abel enough too. Golden Plover becomes the 152nd Thorncombe Street area bird, and my 138th. Happy days!

Monday, 26 February 2018

20th-26th January

I had limited time for patch birding over the weekend, though thankfully the sun is coming up early enough now for pre-work sessions, and the relatively nice (but cold) end to last week allowed me to get out and about. Away from the patch, I was one of many who undertook a journey to Weymouth in order to see a truly stunning adult Ross’s Gull on Saturday, and spending the night at my parents in Sussex allowed for a little coastal birding there too.
Juvenile Red Kite, Thorncombe Street, 25/2/2018.

20th-23rd, patch

A couple of sessions on Wednesday and Friday saw me catch up with several species that are beginning to think about breeding. Many common species are now in full song, Great Spotted Woodpeckers are drumming everywhere and male Red-legged Partridges are squaring off and scrapping roadside.

On Friday I tried, yet again, to dig out a Water Rail at Phillimore, but failed. It really does seem like none are wintering here, and given they’ve done so since the late 1980’s at least, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs. Elsewhere I had a single Hawfinch near Yewtree Nob, and a few Bramblings throughout.

24th, Weymouth and West Wittering

An early start, and freezing stakeout at Ferrybridge, failed to deliver the Arctic gem which at least 200 birders had travelled to see. When news broke of the adult Ross’s Gull reappearing at Lodmoor, there was a bit of a rush there, before it was confirmed it had flown.
Adult Ross's Gull, RSPB Radipole Lake, 24/2/2018.

Not wanting to stand around at Ferrybridge I decided to check out Weymouth Pavillion pier, and Bowleaze Cove (two sites it had been seen at the day before), but with no joy in freezing conditions I deviated to get a coffee, before another unsuccessful look at Radipole Lake.

I gave it one last check of Lodmoor and was about to leave, when news broke of the bird showing well at Radipole. A mad dash over, and there it was – words like beautiful and stunning are certainly overused in birding, but this adult Ross’s Gull truly was, and it felt like a real privilege to enjoy simply outrageous views of it on a shingle island just several feet away.

A long-time dream bird, I concerned myself with soaking up scope views as oppose to try and get a good picture in the scrum, and the image in this post is the best I managed. It’s a wonder as to how this delicate little bird survives in the high Arctic. After about 10 minutes it flew off south, over the town and away, thus preparing the next wave of twitchers for another game of cat and mouse.

Before heading to my parents I checked out the large Brent Goose flock at West Wittering, which must have numbered nearly 1,000 birds. The group was feeding actively, and with the ‘Beast From The East’ hitting us from today, there must be an outside chance of something like a Red-breasted Goose moving away from a frozen continent and joining up with this lot in the coming weeks.

Brent Geese, West Wittering, 24/2/2018.
25th, Felpham and patch

With a northerly component to the wind I didn’t have high hopes for a seawatch from my parents, and unsurprisingly nothing was moving far out. However, what must be a post-roost movement of gulls began long before dawn, moving east close in.

It was clear plenty of Mediterranean Gulls were part of this, and in an hour from 06:40 to 07:40 I tallied no less than 234 birds – that’s 3.9 a minute! Perhaps not of note to locals, it seemed an impressive count to me. This species is clearly still on the increase – flocks of 800+ have been counted in west Dorset in recent weeks.

A little later it was back to Surrey, and a glorious day could have been mistaken for spring if it wasn’t for a bitterly cold north-east wind. I stuck my nose in a few different sections of the patch, and met up with Rich H and Rich S, who were visiting in an attempt to get Red-legged Partridge and Raven on their year lists.

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Felpham, 25/2/2018.
An enjoyable catch up was had for an hour or so, and an enthusiastic local told us of his recent discovery of a pair of Arctic Terns nearby – a truly gripping tale (!). Things were generally quiet, though after both Rich’s left a couple of Hawfinches and Ravens flew over, and a flock of 28 Meadow Pipits were flushed up by a Kestrel.

The week ahead

A lot of talk about this impending cold snap has taken place. Ultimately, these events often flatter to deceive, no least for a dry, inland site! However, it’s fun to imagine, and for me I’ll be chasing three possibilities.

Firstly, vis-mig could be interesting. Already today in Surrey Wes A has had 23 Golden Plovers over Capel (a bird not on the Thorncombe Street list!), and Matt P recorded a few small groups of Lapwings over Clandon. There may be local movements of passerines, and of course that tiny, remote hope (that keeps all patchers going!) of something wondrous like a flock of grey geese.

Wildfowl numbers should increase, after what’s been a poor year locally. Mill Pond often remains unfrozen, and this could prove key in the coming days. Finally, seed-eaters may move about, with food becoming much harder to access. I’ll be sure to keep the Ridge topped up with seed this week, and who knows what might move in?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

West Ireland 16th-19th February, part two

Day three was an early start, as we drove down the west coast to County Kerry, and the extremely remote and atmospheric Inveragh Peninsula. With excellent gen from Rich B, the 150+ Common Scoter flock was located at Rossbeigh, and so began the process of picking out the long-staying drake Black Scoter.
Female Surf Scoter, Rossbeigh, 18/2/2018.

With the wind coming straight onshore, and rain with it, viewing a constantly diving flock among high waves was far from ideal. A female Surf Scoter was picked out fairly close in early on, but the main target remained elusive. Eventually the Black Scoter was picked out, with his bulbous, yellow-orange bill illuminating the dreich morning.

After a Full Irish, it was back north, and we stopped at Limerick to check out the gulls along the River Shannon. Clearly feeding them is popular with the locals, and a few people were by the river chucking bread, with Mute Swans, Feral Pigeons and even a Grey Heron getting in on the free food.

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Limerick, 18/2/2018.
There were around 100 gulls there, mainly Black-headed, but also a handful of Common and Herring. I also had my only Lesser Black-backed Gull of the trip here, an adult, as well as, much to my surprise, a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull, which flew down river.

The main attraction though was the 3 juvenile Iceland Gulls that showed pretty well. A Kumlien’s Gull has been reported here for some time, but despite one of the Iceland’s seeming fairly dark, and displaying a slight tail band in flight, I wouldn’t mark it down as kumlieni. Perhaps there was a Kumlien’s somewhere along the river, and I missed it.

We then deviated along the Clare coastline, and managed a few more wingers, including 2 Glaucous Gulls at Liscannor and an Iceland near the Cliffs of Moher. At the former site, one of the birds was a really stunning 2nd-winter bird, and it obliged for photos at close range. After another failed check at Kinvarra for the Forster’s Tern, where I met some friendly local birders, it was back to Galway for the night.

2nd-winter Glaucous Gull, Liscannor, 18//2/2018.
The final day involved a lie in, after a bit of a session on the Guinness the previous night. Most of the day was non-birding, but before our evening flight home we looped west to Achill Island, another end-of-the-world-esque place, in County Mayo. Here the target was a long-staying Semipalmated Plover, a difficult ID, and after passing a few Glaucous Gulls the mixed wader flock it associates with was located on the golf course at Keel.

In driving rain, picking out the subtleties of this Nearctic species was exceptionally tough. Sadly, I had to vacate the car and trudge through the damp golf course, being careful not to flush the birds (which consisted of Ringed Plover, Dunlins, Sanderlings and Turnstones) as I went.

Semipalmated Plover, Keel, 19/2/2018.
I managed to pick out the Semipalmated Plover, which certainly seemed that bit slighter in comparison to the Ringed Plovers it was with. The chest band was fairly thin, but there were young Ringed Plovers with similar bands on them, and the eye-stripe wasn’t notably weak – the key thing was the white extending above the gape line. This did stand out, even in the trying conditions, and is quite clear in photos I took. I compared and contrasted with the Ringed Plovers for a while, before, cold and wet, it was back to the rental Seat.

Ireland in the winter is really fun. As mentioned in the previous post, the combination of find-your-own and twitching is enjoyable, and you always have the feeling a rare gull is there to be found (sadly not by me). I’ll definitely be back one day.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

West Ireland 16th-19th February, part one

I’ve always thought the idea of a winter break to west Ireland would be good fun, and with few activities more rose-tinted than lobbing economy-value bread at gulls in freezing harbours, I decided a post-Valentine’s, long weekend with the beloved girlfriend on the Emerald Isle was on the cards in 2018.

Ring-billed Gull, Nimmo's Pier, 17/2/2018.
Whilst only a part-birding trip, the time in the field was an enjoyable combination of DIY, look for your own stuff in under watched areas, mixed with the odd twitch as you move about. I ended up with two Western Palearctic ticks (Black Scoter and Semipalmated Plover), and a ludicrous number of white-wingers, though sadly nothing rarer.

I’ll split the blog posts into two. Thanks must go to Rich B (who’d completed a similar trip the week before me, finding a Bonaparte’s Gull at Killybegs) for detailed gen and pointers on a couple of gulls I had. The 2 days, when birding, was primarily a case of driving around and checking all suitable harbours/ports/beaches for gulls in County Mayo, Galway and Clare, as well as spending some time scanning suitable looking Snowy Owl/Gyr habitat.

Friday 16th 
Juvenile Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, Connemara
Smokehouse, 16/2/2018.

We took the long route down from Knock International (for anyone visiting this airport in the future note you have to pay a €10 development fee, per person, upon departure!), and snow was on the ground as we headed west at about 09:30.

From here we tracked the Mayo and Galway coast looping round to Galway city. This part of the world is remote, and subsequently very under-watched. Further south saw more gulls, and the first wingers were at the harbour at Clifden – a juvenile Glaucous and adult Iceland.

Several harbours and coastal towns were checked as the weather closed in – by mid-afternoon it was heavy rain and wind. This didn’t stop the gulls loving the bread throwing at Connemara Smokehouse, and a pretty repulsive looking juvenile Glaucous Gull and a juvenile Iceland were particularly showy here. This is likely a good spot, and the mixed flock was big, but we headed to Galway and our accommodation with the weather deteriorating.

2nd-winter Iceland Gull, Barna, 17/2/2018.
Saturday 17th 

The sun was out first thing, and the famous Nimmo’s Pier was top of the agenda. The gull numbers here were a little disappointing to be honest (Ross’s and American Herring some of the species found here before), and I managed just a single Ring-billed Gull (adult) and Iceland Gull (juvenile). Nearby at Mutton Island, a juvenile Glaucous Gull flew over.

We then worked the south Galway coast, from Nimmo’s to Rossaveel. This produced 6 Iceland Gulls, including a particularly attractive second-winter bird at Barna, and a group of 5 at Rossaveel. At the latter site a gull with extensive head and breast streaking, and a striking black tail band, had me ever so slightly pondering smithsonianus. However, it seems likely it was just an advanced, second-winter argenteus Herring.
Great Northern Diver, Mutton Island, 17/2/2018.

We worked back, through Galway and down to County Clare, stopping off briefly at Kiltiernan Turlough where distant views of the drake Ring-necked Duck were obtained. We then worked the harbours and beaches between Kinvarra and Ballyvaughen, where just the single winger (adult Iceland) was found.

That was that for the first full day. Since arriving I’d managed 12 wingers, but hadn’t found anything rarer, and dipped the Forster’s Tern at Kinvarra which was reported after my visit. The plan for Sunday was a long drive south, to County Kerry.

Monday, 12 February 2018

5th-12th February

It’s been a decent past week on patch, with a few new additions to the year list, as well as a mixed supporting cast of local scarcities. The showstopper was no doubt a singing Woodlark at Brookwell yesterday, just the third site record, and a particularly dreamy encounter in fine pre-dawn sunshine. A Barn Owl found by Matt P was a rare moment of grippage here, and a great record given how hard to see this species is around Thorncombe Street. Other highlights included a drake Pochard, a flock of Crossbills and a few ever so subtle suggestions of spring.

Drake Pochard, Rowe's Flashe, 7/2/2018.
5th-8th February

With the days growing longer, brief pre-work visits are once again possible, and I managed to fit a couple in last week. The cold spell has seen wildfowl numbers typically increase, and February through to late March is always a prime time for Aythya movements and influxes.

With a Ferruginous Duck turning up at a private site not far from here in January, and a Pochard x Fudge hybrid present at Beddington even more recently, this species was (ambitiously as ever) on my radar. In the end I had to settle for a smart drake Pochard on Rowe’s Flashe on the 7th, (2nd 2018 record) and a rising number of Tufted Ducks (which peaked at 13 on Saturday). 44 Teal at Mill Pond on the 8th is also a year high.

9th February

Having gone out for food on Friday night, a clear sky resulted in a slight deviation on the way home, and a better late than never hunt for a 2018 Tawny Owl. The end result was at least 3 calling around the Juniper Hill/Great Brook area, and one low over the road near Nadia’s Hill. Sadly there was to be no Barn Owl though Matt P, who was driving through the site later in the evening, managed a bird flying north at Palmer’s Cross, in the far south-east of the recording area.

Fieldfare, Bonhurst Farm, 10/2/2018.
This species is very elusive here, and whilst word among the gamekeepers suggests a pair have taken up residence near Combe Farm it seems likely that Barn Owls remain visitors, with pairs at various places outside the patch boundary (Hascombe and Smithbrook Kilns). I haven’t missed a patch year tick since 2015, so I better track one down soon! The species is Matt’s 114th here, a fine haul.

10th February

Fairly grim weather was forecast, so I targeted the dry but cold morning window for a casual session. There wasn’t loads to report, and the Ridge was in fact pretty disappointing – no sign of the Mealy Redpoll (only 5 Lessers seen), 0 Bramblings and just a handful of Linnets and Reed Buntings.

Some consolation came via a small group of Crossbills, seemingly flushed up from somewhere within Thorncombe Park. The first two were individuals, calling like crazy as they flew over my head and to Furze Field. Then, at around 08:30, another 4 exploded up from somewhere and flew west. Crossbills are scarce here, and in what’s been a quiet winter nationally for the species it’s certainly a surprise that this is the third record of 2018 already – the same total as the whole of last year.

11th February
Common Buzzard, Wintershall, 10/2/2018.

Despite a notable hangover I was up with the lark on Sunday (literally), and on patch before sunrise (!). A Christmas tree plantation between Brookwell and the A281 has been set-aside for a couple of years, and is an ideal, scrubby area that’s lacking elsewhere here. Sadly, access isn’t easy, so I rarely bother to check it out.

For some reason I decided that this was a good morning to, and this proved to be an excellent call as the distant, flutey notes of a Woodlark were heard almost immediately. This is one of my favourite songsters, and I eventually found the individual sat up on a telephone wire quite some distance from the path. With the sun coming up over Winterfold to the east, the lark was bathed in a glorious, golden-amber dawn glow as it let rip its beautiful melody.

Even if this species was regular here I’d always take the time to appreciate it’s song, so the fact this was only the third site record (following birds in 2016 and 2017) made for an even more special moment. Certainly, enough to make a weekend, and a real pointer to spring.

Woodlark, Brookwell, 11/2/2018.
The sense that the seasons are switching up soon was heightened post-breakfast, with the sun continuing to shine, and in fact often getting the better of an occasionally bitter west/north-west wind. A sky-watch was on the cards, and several raptors were up, to the backdrop of singing Skylarks and a Yellowhammer at Tilsey Farm. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull drifted high north over Hascombe Hill too – maybe it wasn’t on its daily winter commute the reservoirs of south London, and was on its way to breeding grounds further north?

A productive weekend leaves the year list at 83, a very good total and in fact one ahead of this time last year (though I'm on 82 having missed the Barn Owl). A couple of bits should be ticked off in the next one or two weeks (Water Rail a notable year list absentee), and woodpeckers too are high on the agenda, before March and it’s many hopes and joyous offerings commence.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

30th January-4th February

A fairly quiet weekend, with a few more rather frustrating moments, though some teasing signs of spring made the time in the field worthwhile. The best bits were today, and in a repeat of last Sunday came via Crossbill and Hawfinch sightings. Elsewhere plenty of species are now in song, not least Skylark, which was a welcome year tick today with birds over the Ridge and at Tilsey Farm.
Raven, Junction Field, 4/2/2018.

Saturday 3rd

Thorncombe Street and Wepham

The weather yesterday was pretty poor, so I managed just a brief circuit. At Mill Pond wildfowl numbers remain low, though a calling Firecrest was good value. Bonhurst Farm had the impressive winter thrush and Starling flock, but that was about it.

With rain set in for the day, I decided to head down to the Arun valley and the water meadows between Warningcamp and Wepham. Here, the 4 adult Bewick's Swans showed nicely from the road, with 5 Mutes. I also noted a single Little Egret, and a pair of displaying Common Buzzards.

Sunday 4th
Lesser Redpoll, Ridge, 4/2/2018.

Joined by David C, an entire morning on patch was achieved, though the results were more steady than spectacular. The first port of call was the Ridge, and in glorious winter sunshine plenty of Common Buzzards, Red Kites and Ravens were up, with a male Sparrowhawk joining them later on.

The main focus for us was the finch and bunting flock, which didn't quite perform as hoped. However, we still tallied 5+ Bramblings, 20+ Lesser Redpolls, 2+ Reed Buntings and 20+ Linnets, and David saw what he thought was probably the long-staying Mealy Redpoll. A Skylark flew east, calling - a year tick for me, and if we want to be eager, perhaps a sign of a bird on the move back to its breeding grounds (this species is very scarce on this part of the patch).

Fieldfare, Bonhurst Farm, 3/2/2018.
We then completed a loop of New Barn to Tilsey Farm, during which time the best bird was probably a flyover Crossbill, calling but not seen, over Hive Field. At Tilsey Farm, at least 1 Skylark was in voice - this is the first I've heard this year, and it's always a particularly heart-warming sign of early spring. 

A Hawfinch flew south, a few Herring Gulls trickled east and 4 species of raptor (Kestrel and the previous 3 species) were up and at it.

After David raced to twitch Teal and Gadwall at Mill Pond for his Thorncombe Street list that was that, and I look forward to further signs of spring developing in the next few weeks. Saying that, this spell of northerlies that's forecast could produce something interesting in the next week or so.