Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Saturday, 16 June 2018

Royal T

The high-summer/World Cup lull is in full swing, and I haven't even been out on patch since Sunday (when to be fair I covered over 6 miles during a 3 and a half hour scour). Thanks largely to my legendary boss I've yet to have missed a World Cup match, though a midweek regal arrival in Sussex had me close to bailing on Russia-Egypt.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Thorncombe Street area,

I instead decided to try for the American Royal Tern at first light the morning after it had first been found in the tern colony at Church Norton, Pagham. Initially identified as last years Elegant Tern, the advanced non-breeding plumage and heavy bill quickly pointed towards it in fact being the ringed 2nd-summer American Royal Tern which has spent several months across the Channel on Guernsey.

Following genetic research American Royal Tern is likely to be split from West African by the IOC soon - consequently a firmed up American bird is of huge interest to UK or WP listers, and by 03:45 on Wednesday Abel B and I were racing down the A3. Sometimes you get lucky on twitches and this was absolutely the case here - we parked at 04:30, Josh J informed me of its presence at 04:34 and at 04:35 I was looking in his scope at the bird. At 04:37 it took off and flew out the harbour, not to be seen here again!

I felt sorry for the many people we passed who were turning up in the minutes following, though to be fair if you're getting up at silly o'clock for a bird it makes sense to make sure you're there for first light. The bird was picked up later on at Lodmoor in Dorset, some 74 miles away as the tern flies. It was seen near there at dawn on Thursday, but as far as I'm aware hasn't been seen since. A very nice addition to the Pally Tally during the summer down-time.

On patch since my last post there hasn't really been much to report, and my visits have mainly been to monitor the breeders. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are one such success story, with a bird seen carrying food and a fledgling heard at a site where up to 3 adults were present in the early spring. Regrettably known LSW pairs in the county can be counted on one hand, but they persist here.

Whitethroat, Broomy Down,
Spotted Flycatchers continue to thrive here too, and I had at least 7 different birds across the site on the 16th, including a pair taking food to a regular nest. These birds have gained a lot of attention among photographers, presumably because of their exposed perches, and I had to dish out some social media warnings after one of the Selhurst Common residents whom I regularly chat to on my walks around there complained about some particularly lingering visitors.

Indeed the same resident, who regularly walks her dog around the New Barn area, was adamant her pet had flushed a Quail from one of the grass meadows at Tilsey Farm. Upon hearing this I was quick to check out the area but couldn't locate any lip-wetters, and it's clear that Red-legged Partridge or even Skylark are probably more likely species. Indeed, Quail would have been a site first, but you never know...

Probably the main patch news has been the discovery of further, 1800's records, as well as some intriguing recollections and data from the Hutley family, who own the Wintershall Estate. Remarkably no less than 5 new species are to be added to the historical site list as a result, but I'll dedicate a separate post to all of that soon!

Monday, 11 June 2018

Bear With Me Patch, My Mind's Off To Russia

Red Kite, Surrey, 8/6/2018.
In case you didn’t know, spring ‘passage’ in 2018 is well and truly over, though it’s hard to claim it ever got going – it’s been by far my weakest first half of a year since patching at Thorncombe Street. I know I’ve moaned about it a lot but it’s been that bad, and whilst everyone seems to have noticed a lack of migrants, I really feel like I got the worst of it in a Surrey sense.

My frustrations can be demonstrated a little in my vis-mig results. I’ve logged 75.85 hours watching the skies this season, with zilch reward. The Leith Hill tower crew logged 37.8, and had 3 Bonxies! That’s how it goes sometimes, and to be fair my efforts have been more the past couple of weeks.

I’ve ambitiously undertook 3 Nightjar vigils at Selhurst Common, the latest of which came last night. The conifer plantation there is at optimum growth for any stray Nightjar to take a fancy to it, and indeed they bred here until the 1900’s at least, but I’ve had no luck. Only the 3rd Red-crested Pochard record of the year came on the 8th, and a pleasing amount and spread of Spotted Flycatchers has also been noted on most visits.

The weekend before last myself, Abel B, David C and Magnus A decided to take an overnight trip to the continent. My main motivation was to finally lay my uber-Eagle-owl-bogey-dippage to rest, and I finally did, in the far southwest of the Netherlands, near Maastricht. An adult was sitting out nicely on an old quarry cliff face, and after 4 attempts in 3 countries, I’ve finally seen one.
Eurasian Eagle-owl, Oehoe Vallei, 2/6/2018.

Other decent bits included 2 Icterine and loads of Marsh Warblers, Bluethroats, Turtle Doves and a displaying Honey-buzzard. We put in a very lazy, half-arsed searched for the long-staying Pygmy Cormorant in eastern Brussels, but dipped (of course it was seen the next day).

This past weekend I was down in Devon with my family. Really quiet on the bird front, though a visit to RSPB Labrador Bay meant I caught up with Cirl Buntings in the UK for only the 3rd time. 2 males were still singing, and there were several birds diving in and out of hedges. The habitat here is unremarkable, and it seems amazing that this species suffered such a dramatic fall from grace in Surrey (and everywhere else).

Aside from the adjacent sea the site is very similar to the Thorncombe Street area – due to the lack of actual farming on the estates there’s no autumn sowing of cereals (on albeit limited crop fields), and herbicides aren’t used. Indeed, the rolling hills, abundant Hawthorn and year-round seed actually seems pretty suitable for Cirl Buntings, which surely bred here before happily (though there are no documented records).
Cirl Bunting, RSPB Labrador Bay, 9/6/2018.

A successful introduction project took place in Cornwall in 2006, and as of 2015, the population there is now considered self-sustaining. Given the sedentary nature of Cirl Buntings, they will probably need a hand if they’re ever to reappear in Surrey…

Anyway, after the disappointing spring, the patch is now entering its summer lull. It's time for beer gardens, festivals and (best and engrossingly of all) the World Cup.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Acro Enigma and Surrey Turtle Doves

As we slip into high-summer things have been quiet locally, and my patch visits have dropped down a little as the possibility of the unusual diminishes to even smaller levels. As mentioned a few times this spring hasn’t been great, anywhere, so it was a bit of a surprise when news broke yesterday morning of a possible Blyth’s Reed Warbler down the road at Frensham Great Pond.
Warbler sp., Frensham Great Pond, 31/5/2018.

It was no shock that it was a Shaun P find – along with Dave H at Walton and Peter A at Beddington, he has possibly the finest list of patch finds for Surrey. A few heads (including Mark E and Rich H) tried in the day for the bird but had no luck. Despite this, and the biblical showers coming down, Robin S and I decided to give it a go – in my limited experience this species likes to sing in the evening/at night.

We met Matt P there, and Shaun, the latter of whom had relocated the bird in it’s favoured area of scrub just east of the beach. In the following 2+ hours it was a simple game of cat and mouse. It sang, always briefly (no more than 30-40 seconds, and normally more like 20), and showed ever so fleetingly, around 8-9 times.

In short, I desperately tried and failed to get a photo of the wings, managing only frustrating head and back shots. We got a few snippets of song on my Tascam too, the best of which can be found on my Soundcloud here (has a Great Tit-esque flourish). Below is a brief summary of some of the features that perhaps suggested it wasn’t an aberrantly singing Reed Warbler.
Warbler sp., Frensham Great Pond, 31/5/2018.
  • The song. Lots of mimicry, with the xylophone-like element of a BRW heard a few times. The majority consensus was that it sounded too sedate for Marsh Warbler, though I’ll touch on that later.
  • The bird had rather pallid/grey tones, particularly to the upperparts.
  • It had a long bill, darkening at the tip.
  • It had a flat appearing head.
  • The supercilium ran only between the bill and eye and (as can be seen in one of the photos), the white 'blob' effect could be seen.
  • The legs were dark brown/grey. Possibly a bit early in the year for a Reed Warblers legs to darken.
Ultimately, we aren’t going to get anything firm without shots of the wings, and a better/longer recording. Weirdly (though maybe not for Surrey) it was just us 4 searching for it – pretty poor for a possible county first. I’d hoped some big lenses (and optimistically parabolics!) would go down today but sadly there was no sign of the bird first bells.

I passed what evidence we had to a few experts, and the tentative consensus was Blyth’s Reed, but of course nothing firm. In my mind, I really don’t know. However, when I first heard it, I asked the others why it wasn’t Marsh, but all thought the song was too slow. Blyth’s Reed and Marsh can hybridise in northern Europe, and that's even crossed my mind with this bird. A really interesting opinion was that of Simon R – he’s on the Norwegian rarities committee, and has the 3 Acro’s in question on his patch. He said it sounded like a standard Marsh Warbler to him…
Yellowhammer, Broomy Down, 27/5/2018.

Indeed, it could even be a particularly funky Reed Warbler. It seems like a frustrating one that got away, but an inspiring find, and a wonderfully tricky and difficult ID.

On patch, it’s been quiet. An unseasonal Yellowhammer was on Broomy Down last weekend, offering hope of breeding nearby. Spotted Flycatchers are in (up to 3), and the Woodlarks are still at Selhurst Common.

4 miles beyond the patch, over the Bank Holiday, I enjoyed a very rare sight (for Surrey) of a displaying Turtle Dove. Chris S had found 2 birds just north of Pallinghurst Farm, near Alfold, and when I went to check it out a couple of days later I was delighted to find 1 still about. 2 birds were seen the following day, but Robin has tried twice without luck since then. It does seem however that there’s a chance this species hangs on in outer Surrey, and I’ll be sure to check the area again soon.