Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


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.