Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Tuesday 31 July 2018

Autumn Approaching, Visualize

Late July and early August has become synonymous with waders here, with low cloud, showers and a bit of westerly in the wind always enough to coax me onto one of my vantages for a chance of the dry inland-patchers delight; the flyover shorebird. 27th July in particular is a special day in the Thorncombe Street calendar, with flocks of Whimbrels and Black-tailed Godwits having flown over on this date in recent times.
Mandarin duckling, Mill Pond, 30/7/2018.

The weather played its part again on the 27th this year, with the overbearing hot spell eventually breaking down with thunderstorms, gusty wind and showers of varying intensities. I was tied up for most of the day but managed to head out not long after the first rain fell at about 15:30, and I chose the tried and trusted Ridge for my shot at a passing wader flock.

Unfortunately, my 95-minute vigil didn’t deliver, though there was a notable columba movement taking place in between the rain, with 78 Woodpigeons and 48 Stock Doves tallied up flying north. A Willow Warbler also seemed to drop into the nearby copse after one heavy shower, but aside from that it was quiet.

A wet and windy night followed but hopes of any displaced overhead movers the following morning were unfulfilled, despite a very early start. I did however find a juvenile Cuckoo along the Paddock hedgerow at Slades Farm – always nice to see, and confirmation of local breeding again. Waders haven’t been absent by any stretch of the imagination, and indeed two new additions to the 2018 year list were added on the 21st thanks to nocmig (of course).

The headline grabber was a flock of at least 5 Black-tailed Godwits that passed over at 01:09, representing just the 3rd site record, and the 1st for nocmig. The numbers of islandica Black-tailed Godwits migrating through Surrey in the late summer and early autumn these days seems to correlate with their population increase, so perhaps the record is not as much of a surprise as it once would have been.
Small Heath, New Barn, 29/7/2018.

Indeed, Abel B (Farncombe) and Wes A (Capel) had probable flocks over their houses in the small hours of the 22nd and 24th, a large flock of waders (probably godwits) flew over Shalford water meadows on the 25th and there have been odd birds at Tice’s Meadow and Staines Reservoirs. Despite this, the sound of a flock of chattering godwits interrupting an otherwise quiet night of recording is quite an enchanting one.

The other shorebird addition was a Curlew, again on the 21st, but at 23:00 the following night. One of the more likely species to be recorded here, it’s still only the 4th site record.

Wader opportunity will continue to run for a couple of weeks, but Mill Pond is also becoming interesting, as returning ducks appear. After the earliest returning Teal on the 20th, the first Shoveler have arrived, and Gadwall numbers have increased. Surely the month ahead represents an outside chance of finding a Garganey here (as long as it isn't at the far end!).

In wider birding news, unfortunately, one of the Wintershall Estate White Storks has hopped the fence. This juvenile only arrived last Tuesday but has set up residence a little over 10 miles to the north, at Shalford water meadows, where it has proven quite popular. I have actually seen it from the train to work the last few days, but really this is a sad state of affairs, and I can only hope the poor thing will survive. The estate has expressed their disappointment at the escape, but there are no plans to retrieve the individual. Indeed, 3 more have escaped the enclosure, but they don’t seem to go far.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Pagham Harbour, 22/7/2018.
I also managed a trip to the West Sussex coast last weekend for my annual search for juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls, and I found a few, including birds at the North Wall (Pagham), Littlehampton and Bognor Regis. There was also a nice selection of waders to sift through, but attentions now will stay fixed on the patch, with August a fine month traditionally, and often a productive one for any inland birder.

Last year site firsts recorded in August included Greenshank and Yellow-legged Gull, with a glitzy supporting cast of Honey-buzzard, Wood Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Whimbrel. Similar goodies this year would do just fine.

Friday 20 July 2018

Enjoy The Silence

The post-World Cup lull hasn't been filled with much on the birding front - it's been super-quiet to be honest, though a smattering of eyebrow-raising breeding records, and a couple of subtle pointers to autumn have occurred over the past few days and weeks.
Female (left) and eclipse drake Teal, Mill Pond, 18/7/2018.

In terms of the latter, perhaps the biggest suggestion that summer is reaching its end was the arrival of 3 Teal on Mill Pond on the 18th. A common winter sight here, these were the earliest known returners by some 30 days. Hopefully a few more will pass through in the coming weeks, and with them perhaps a Garganey, a particular favourite of mine and a species I'd love to find on patch. 

During an enjoyable ringing session with Abel B and Steve C on Tuesday a notable northwesterly movement of 62 Swifts took place, with 3 species of gull (including 14 Black-headed) and 2 Sand Martins (patch rarity) also passing overhead - all suggestions that the seasons are shifting, and whilst a vocal male Yellowhammer is also a reminder of colder times here, this particular chap was probably breeding nearby.

Sadly this colourful Bunting doesn't quite breed in the recording area, but 2018 has blessed the site with plenty of positive news on this front involving other species. Earlier in the year Crossbills and Woodlarks were surprising breeders/attempted breeders, and in the past couple of weeks the long-awaited confirmation that Barn Owls were nesting occurred when an adult was seen carrying food over Allden's Hill (a site they've been recorded regularly this year). Estate workers have suspected a pair have taken up residence around here/the north end of Combe Farm, and hopefully I can check out the area soon to learn more.

On Wednesday a Kingfisher was seen carrying fish to and from Snowdenham House/Bramley Mill - yet another new breeding species since detailed recording began in 2014. Add in a bumper year for Spotted Flycatchers (first fledglings seen this week), the continued Lesser Spotted Woodpecker success and Mill Pond being akin to a creche at present, then perhaps it's not been such a silent few weeks after all.

Monday 2 July 2018

Purple Haze

Late June isn’t exactly a time of year for the patch to be throwing out many surprises, but the past 10 days have really delivered with, incredibly, a couple of site firsts. The headline occurred over the weekend just gone, when 2 Purple Emperor butterflies were seen in the southern section of the area. During the week before the first nod to Autumn occurred when an Oystercatcher was sound-recorded flying over Allden’s Hill – another patch first. With a Ring-necked Parakeet (very rare here) the best among the rest of the avian highlights, it’s been a rewarding few days.

Spotted Flycatcher, Selhurst Common, 30/6/2018.
I’ve been pretty negligent with butterflies this year, but with this hot spell seemingly never ending I decided to catch up with the local high summer species over the weekend, with Purple Hairstreaks particularly abundant this year. It’s long been considered by myself and others that Purple Emperors must persist in the large tracts of suitable wooded habitat in the south of the recording area, though despite previous searches I’d not found one.

This changed on Saturday, when I was stopped in my tracks by a male Purple Emperor on horse poo on the path down from Great Brook to New Barn. Sadly it took off and flew into Scotsland Brook before I could get a photo, but it was a truly memorable moment, and as a result I gave a couple of hours on Sunday scouring the adjacent woods for more. I struck gold again with another male, this time in Leg-of-Mutton Copse. Purple Emperors look like they’ve had a good year nationally (300+at Knepp!), and it seems that a population does occur here, deep in these rarely visited woods.

Purple Hairstreak, Leg-of-Mutton Copse, 1/7/2018.
Another site first, and the 159th bird species now recorded here, was an Oystercatcher, which was recorded as it called rather distantly over Allden’s Hill in the early hours of the 26th. Of the possible waders to be recorded here I guess Oyc is fairly high up, given their abundance and preference to move at night. Presumably this individual was a failed breeder from further north, and heading back south for the winter (!). I’m hopeful the next month or so will turn up plenty more noc-mig waders, and I’m also planning on camping out a couple of nights so I can try and hear them ‘live’.

A raucous Ring-necked Parakeet at Eastwaters last Saturday morning was a slightly perturbing record given the time of year but nevertheless represents a 2018 first, and only the 7th record in the last 5 years. Other decent bird records include the 4th Red-crested Pochard record of the year, on Mill Pond on the 24th, a year high of 72 Mandarin at the same site the following day (a post/non-breeding flock peaks during mid-June every year here) and the confirmation of further Spotted Flycatcher nest sites, as well as successful Firecrest breeding.

I made a brief excursion to Thursley Common very early on Saturday morning, connecting with a smart (but distant) male Red-backed Shrike that had been present for a few days. I'd never seen a male in the UK before so thought I'd go for it, given how close to home it was. As of yesterday it seems he's moved on...

Red-crested Pochard, Mill Pond, 26/6/2018.
Finally, I must make reference to a report of 2 White Storks in Bramley last Wednesday. The news of 2 at St. Catherine’s School was both a bit weird and vague (I still went for a look after work!), though after getting in contact with the observer there’s a chance the sighting has legs. The birds were seen by a Ben W, and other parents at the school sports day, as they thermalled overhead before flying south over Snowdenham Lane (i.e. the patch!).

Of course, one wonders if Grey Heron can be ruled out here, but Ben assured me he sees White Storks annually in Europe, and is 100% certain of what he saw. For what it’s worth, the locally reintroduced Storks can’t fly, and all 21 were present and correct that day. I’ve asked him to submit it to the Surrey Bird Club, though to be honest I’ll be surprised if it joins the <20 previous county records of this species. Nevertheless, an exciting thought, and certainly one to ignite autumnal motivation…