Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 26 March 2018

20th-26th March

Frustrating is probably the appropriate word for the last week on patch, in birding terms. This is largely borne out of the weather – late March (as mentioned previously) is generally my favourite time of year, but the weekends just haven’t aligned with those glorious early spring days this year. Of course, after heavy mist and cloud for most of the day yesterday, today is blue skies and sun…

Hawfinch, Raggetts, 21/3/2018.
Despite this a new bird for the year was recorded on the 21st, though sadly not by myself – a Snipe flushed from Gatestreet Farm represents, perhaps surprisingly, the first record since 18th March 2015. Furthermore, a productive meeting with the National Trust suggests that wildlife is about to be given a real helping hand down at Winkworth.


I managed a couple of vis-mig sessions from Allden’s Hill, with fairly average results. Both watches offered a tease at Meadow Pipit migration, with counts of over 15 on each session. A few high-flying Cormorants on the 21st were fun, and a Brambling was noted on the 22nd.

Elsewhere, Hawfinches continue to be both regular and showy around Raggetts. Early morning is best, and up to 10 can be heard popping and whistling, and seen sitting up in high trees, from the footpath that runs east from the phone-box.

24th and 25th

In terms of birds, Saturday was quiet. The first singing Chiffchaff of the year offered some relief, but otherwise there wasn’t loads. Indeed, exotics and oddities headed up proceedings – the Black Swan pair at Brookwell Pond, the semi-resident Bar-headed Goose was at Rowe’s Flashe and a couple of Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrids (offspring of the elusive female RC Poch) were at Bramley Park Lake. Woodpecker action was good value though.

Common Gull, Bonhurst Farm, 22/3/2018.
The day was largely taken up by meetings, with both the National Trust, and the Wintershall Estate. The former was most productive – in short, Winkworth have been given a budget to restore and enhance Phillimore. Once upon a time this was a lake to rival Rowe’s Flashe, but now it’s in dire condition and Water Rails didn’t winter for the first time in decades.

This prompted me to contact the National Trust, and lead to this meeting. The first plan is to remove the alder and willow, before removing all the gunnera and grass sedges. Once that’s completed, two wader scrapes are to be created, along with a herring bone channel. A reedbed will also be created and managed. Naturally, this is hugely exciting, though it will doubtless take a while. Further down the line, a hide has been discussed, as well as a tern raft on Rowe’s Flashe.

My meeting with the Wintershall Estate too was productive, not least because I learnt of the Snipe that was flushed on the 21st. This species probably does pass through or even hang about in some of the less accessible parts of the patch, but I never manage to find any. Indeed, my only record came back in March 2015, when Matt and I had one on Eastwaters Pond. This brings the species list up to 91 for 2018.

Fieldfares, Allden's Hill, 21/3/2018.
We also discussed the possibility of creating a section of habitat for the benefit of Nightingales and Turtle Doves, in similarity to the Knepp Estate (with which Wintershall have a close relationship). There are also plans to create a monthly nature blog, and to expand on the White Stork area, with the further removal of trees and stumps, and scrape and channel creation.

Yesterday was desperately quiet, bar an arrival of grounded Chiffchaffs (5 in total). After a week-long forecast of sun and light cloud I was looking forward to a big sky-watch, but the reality was mist, cloud and occasional drizzle.

Later in the day, whilst on BirdGuides duty, I was most surprised to hear a Willow Warbler from the flat – comfortably my earliest Surrey record, and for the second year in a row my first of the year has come outside my flat.

The week ahead

Bullfinch, Allden's Hill, 21/3/2018.
I’m making myself not look at the Easter Bank Holiday forecast, because it seems that bad. Temperatures are set to drop, and the winds look inconsistent. Not good for migration, but by next Tuesday I’d be disappointed if I haven’t seen the first Swallow of the year (generally arrive between 30th March-4th April).

Willow Warblers often appear early here too, and at least I’d expect an increase in Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. Firecrests too have been notable by their absence so far, but this’ll doubtless change soon. Generally spring Wheatears arrive later in April, and we’re still a couple of weeks away from Cuckoos, Garden Warblers and House Martins.

We are, however, entering an exciting time of the year, when anything (within the realms of possibility for the dry, inland patch) can happen. An Osprey or Marsh Harrier would be nice, or perhaps a Little or Mediterranean Gull on the move.

Since the Water Pipit, March has disappointed. Perhaps though, it has a late ace up its sleeve?

Monday, 19 March 2018

5th-19th March

It’s been a solid if unspectacular last fortnight on patch, with rather sporadic visits by myself and occasionally frustrating weather keeping things low-key. Still, two new birds for the year have been added, bringing the 2018 total to 90, and my personal tally 89. Blackcap, as predicted in my last post, was the first addition, with the mysterious, semi-resident Red-crested Pochard making its maiden appearance of the year on Saturday.

Pochards, Mill Pond, 16/3/2018.

I was in Finland last weekend (sadly not birding), and I managed just a couple of brief and uneventful visits in the week before. I teamed up with Abel early doors on the 6th, and showed him some of the more interesting local birds, allowing him to add to his quickly growing Thorncombe Street area list!

He had a drake Pochard on Mill Pond in the afternoon, and on the 8th managed an adult Great Black-backed Gull south over the Ridge – March is always so reliable for this species here, and his sighting was the 5th record of what's been an exceptional Great Black-backed year so far. Robin reported 4 Hawfinches and another Great Black-backed Gull later in the day. On the 9th, Abel had 4 Hawfinches near Slades Farm.

Woodpigeons, Allden's Hill, 13/3/2018.

With the first Wheatears and Sand Martins appearing on various timelines and apps I decided a bit of vis-mig would be worth a go last week, and I enjoyed a particularly productive watch on the 13th. With a gentle WNW I tallied 16 species on the move, with the most striking observation a huge, single flock of 600 Redwings heading east – very much a throwback (on a much smaller scale) to the madness of last March.

The first double-digit Meadow Pipit (21) count of the season was notable, and a large number of Woodpigeons and Stock Doves moved north and east – full details can be found here. The following day, with a fairly strong south-east breeze and mist, was disappointing, and a Friday watch also failed to provide much, aside from 13 Hawfinches and 17 Siskins north.

Herring & Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Allden's Hill, 13/3/2018.
Elsewhere in the week up to 4 Pochards (2 pairs, with drakes displaying) were present on Mill Pond, most welcome after the single record in 2017. Hawfinches were seen regularly throughout, with birds showing particularly well between Slades Farm and Rowe Barn Farm. A sprinkling of Chiffchaffs at places like Winkworth and Bonhurst Farm were the only hints to spring on the deck.


Any visions of a fine, early spring day watching raptors and searching for migrants this weekend was rudely interrupted by the grossly unnecessary ‘Beast From The East 2’, which brought snow and a piercing north-east wind.

Hawfinches, Raggetts, 16/3/2018.
Unsurprisingly there was little to report, though the female Red-crested Pochard was a welcome turn up on Saturday morning, hanging out with 5 Mallards on Bramley Park Lake. Her last appearance on the patch was in November, and her interim location(s) are a real mystery.

On Sunday a few gulls were moving overhead, including at least 3 Great Black-backed, but snow had blanketed the site and there was little to see on the ground. Abel managed 4 Hawfinches over Allden’s Hill later in the day, but I struggled to piece any hard weather movement together, despite a brave, hungover effort.

It seems in other parts of the country there was some serious action – at nearby Fleet Pond 2060 Redwings and 47 Snipe moved over, and a whopping 24,000 Fieldfares (!), 16,000 Redwings and 7,000 Starlings flew west over Bridport, Dorset. If I’d had stuck it out, maybe I’d have managed to grab a slice of this action…

Red Kite, Bonhurst Farm, 18/3/2018.
The week ahead

It seems like the north-east freeze will slow down from tomorrow, with a much more appealing westerly element kicking in on Tuesday and Wednesday. Whisper it, but what seems to be a tasty looking south/south-west run from Thursday to the following week could finally liven things up, and it definitely seems promising for vis-mig.

Realistically it’s still a bit early for any proper migrants here, though eyes will naturally be peeled. However, the annual late March Mipit movement could well begin to kick in – there’s normally at least one ‘big day’ (though not last year), and this is always one of my favourite elements of the patch year. Generally a gentle breeze with a bit of westerly in it, and some cloud, is the magic combination.

Otherwise, I can only hope for a warm day and some raptor watching, and of course there’s always that 1-in-a-million chance of a magic, late March stoppage-time winner – a Black Redstart, Little Gull or Stone Curlew would be just great.

Monday, 5 March 2018

27th February-3rd March

It’s been little short of a whirlwind on patch this past week. The end of February is not exactly a time associated with year ticks here but, incredibly, I’ve managed 4 during the past 7 days. The ‘Beast From The East’ (surely a more original name could’ve been contrived?) certainly had a helping hand, delivering the first ever Thorncombe Street area Golden Plovers. On top of that, there was the 3rd site Water Pipit, a remarkable influx of Lapwings and a mighty-fine vis-mig session on Sunday.

Reed Bunting, The Ridge, 27/2/2018.
Tuesday 27th-Friday 2nd

On the 27th I headed up to the Ridge in order to lay down plenty of seed ahead of the forecast snow later in the week - a Skylark in the south crop was likely a cold weather mover, and near the end of the session 3 flocks of Lapwings, totalling 14 birds, flew over. These were new for the year, and again probably an example of birds arriving from the east. 137 Starlings south-west, in an hour, was very notable, and again these were no doubt fleeing conditions further north and east.

The gym pipped the patch to the pre-work slot on Wednesday, and typically this was when stuff begin to happen in Surrey, namely an incredible movement of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and thrushes. I’ve gone into this in more detail in this midweek post, which also covers the wonderful find of the sites first Golden Plover, by Abel B. The 160+ Lapwings was the highest count of the influx week, and is thought to be a new record for the area.

Golden Plover, Nadia's Hill, 28/2/2018.
One of the Golden Plovers was still present on the morning of the 1st, hunkered down on Nadia’s Hill with 88 Lapwings, in bitterly cold conditions. A Woodcock flushed roadside just east of Selhurst Common was possibly another bird arriving from the east, and is just the 2nd sighting of 2018. Otherwise, unsurprisingly, it was quiet, on possibly the worst day of weather here during the whole ‘Beast’.

Saturday 3rd

Scraping around for any remnants of the ‘Beast’ proved somewhat fruitless. No Golden Plovers around, though 46 Lapwings were sprinkled throughout. On the Ridge, a couple each of Brambling and Yellowhammer were good value, and another year tick was racked up when a group of 4 adult Great Black-backed Gulls drifted east.

A later visit to the central section of the patch made it clear that plenty of larids were on the move overhead. 6 Lesser Black-backed and 16 Herring Gulls were tallied, as well as around 20 Common Gulls. You know the latter species can be classed as moving through when 1st and 2nd-winter birds are involved – the regular wintering flock here is almost exclusively adults, but the individuals drifting largely north and east looked to be on the move, and many were young birds.

Little Owl, Thorncombe Park, 3/3/2018.
Other decent bits included a Hawfinch pair near Gatestreet Farm, a Kingfisher at Mill Pond, 3 Egyptian Geese and enjoyable views of one of the Little Owls at Thorncombe Park.

Sunday 4th

After the notable gull movement yesterday I decided a first, proper vis-mig of the year was in order, and this decision proved extremely fruitful. With a breezy south-easterly, low cloud and early mist, conditions were good on Allden’s Hill, and it took just a few minutes before the first Herring Gull drifted over.

In an hour and a half, gull-wise, I totalled 34 Herring, 8 Black-headed, 7 Common and a site record 9 Lesser Black-backed, all going north/east. It might not sound much, but any gull is of note here! The best of the larid action was 3 Great Black-backed Gulls, including two beastly adults at 07:50 and 08:06 respectively, that passed through. There was something deeply atmospheric, and near-ominous, about seeing these hulking great birds appear out of the early morning gloom, and drift silently onwards.

Redwings (14) and Fieldfares (23) were all heading north and east too, probably returning from their ventures west last week as oppose to heading to breeding grounds. Finches were represented by 5 species, including a minimum of 18 Hawfinches – surely some are going to stay and breed locally? A Skylark north was a good record, and 7 Lapwings south-east may have been part of the 113 counted on the deck throughout the site later in the day.

2nd-winter Common Gull, Wintershall, 3/3/2018.
The bird of the weekend, and what could probably prove to be the bird of the month, was a single Water Pipit south-east at 08:16. The watch was notable for the lack of Meadow Pipits (though 2 were clocked up towards the end of the session), and this individual flew through at mid-height, offering it’s wetter, squeakier and heavier flight-call than that of a Mipit.

In OK light the pale underparts were most striking, though the prominent supercilium stood out – I recall Matt P once describing them as “almost like a mini Redwing”, and that comparison rang true on this occasion. There are only 2 previous records of Water Pipit here - a bird that dropped down into Hive Field with Meadow Pipits last October, and an individual over the Ridge during a vis-mig session on 30th March 2015. Perhaps this bird had been frozen off its wintering grounds and was returning? It seems a little early for a trip back to the Alps or Pyrenees.

In a classic vis-mig purple patch, some 6 minutes later 2 Golden Plovers flew west behind me. Of course, this was only the 2nd site record, and it was nice to find my ‘own’ on patch. In all it was a really fantastic, can’t-take-your-eyes-off sort of watch. Full details of the session canbe found here on Trektellen.

Raven, Allden's Hill, 4/3/2018.
The week ahead

With the ‘Beast’ now long-gone we enter what’s personally my favourite month on patch, and it’s pretty mad to be on 88 species already. Temperatures rose to as high as 8 celsius on Sunday, and I was half-expecting a hirundine to fly over! It’ll still be a few weeks until I can realistically expect those, with Blackcap likely to be my next year tick, and a real sign of spring (along with singing Chiffchaffs).

Peregrine remains a possibility at any point soon, though Water Rail’s status as a wintering bird here looks more and more precarious after each failed search. However, with year ticks taking a back seat, the next couple of weeks will be dedicated to monitoring the beginning of the breeding process for a number of resident species.