Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Wednesday, 29 August 2018


As alluded to in a previous post, August is reliably productive for the Thorncombe Street area, and for inland sites in general. A mixture of dispersing breeders from places both near and far, as well as the opportunity for occasional drift migrants, means most sessions in the latter half of the month can deliver. Bank Holiday is usually good fun, and 2018 certainly was; over the long weekend a total of 74 species were recorded (no gulls!), including a mighty-fine three year ticks.

Wheatear, Bonhurst Farm, 24/8/2018.
The Black Redstart remained at home at Bonhurst Farm, with a continual stream of visiting birders popping in. The bird has proven popular, despite its oft-flighty and elusive behaviour, and the extra eyes on the site have unearthed some decent records. Most notable was a putative Oystercatcher that Rich S heard calling once yesterday afternoon; sadly he didn’t lay eyes on the bird, so it goes down as a probable, but given the lack of mimicking passerines at Bonhurst, and the two nocmig Oyc records in August so far, it seems likely to have been one.

Gillian S dug out the first Whinchat of the year on Friday afternoon, and I was able to add it to my 2018 list later that evening. Whinchats can be hard to find here, with one or two a year about average, so my thanks go to her for letting me know about the discovery. A Wheatear was also present, and I spent a really enjoyable hour or so with this particularly confiding individual. Sadly, the Black Redstart and Whinchat weren’t so approachable.

Whinchat, Bonhurst Farm, 24/8/2018.
The following day was quieter, with no sign of the Wheatear or Whinchat at Bonhurst, though a Yellow Wagtail flew over just before midday. A juvenile Hobby with its parents confirmed breeding success for the fourth successive year, and five other raptor species noted during the weekend, all of which are thought to have bred on site – an excellent haul. A hangover-induced late start on 26th turned out to work nicely in my favour, with a crazy four or five minute spell at New Barn delivering two patch rares.

Things had seemed fairly quiet, bar a couple of Willow Warblers around New Barn pond, but on the walk back it was clear a mixed flock of passerines had appeared. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were noted, as well as a few young Robins, before I heard a weird croaking call from within some dense brambles on the west side of the path. It immediately struck me that this may well be a Nightingale (check out this clip). The bird continued to make the calls, with the odd tuck, but was incredibly elusive. I played some tape, to which it clearly reacted, but I was quite keen to get views.

Black Redstart, Bonhurst Farm, 24/8/2018.
After about 20 minutes the bird eventually moved, and then flew, low over the path to the other side – thankfully this confirmed my suspicions, and it was indeed a Nightingale. Only my second here (after a singing bird in 2016), and a species that’s hard to see away from breeding grounds, even if the nearest site (Run Common) is little more than a kilometre away. Anyway, I had little time to stop and dwell as, literally seconds after the Nightingale dived into the vegetation, I caught site of a very red-rumped and tailed bird being chased by a Robin.

ID was a lot easier with this – a female-type Redstart, with the individual very vocal but never showing particularly well. Another year tick, and my first here since 2015; a statistic that’s surely down to my inability to find any on passage, as oppose to a lack of them. Presumably the same bird was present the following morning, further north along the path and right by the lay-by, but again was unusually elusive.

Grey Wagtail, Mill Pond, 26/8/2018.
There was some hirundine action yesterday, with big mixed flocks at Gatestreet Farm (100+) and Bonhurst Farm involving many young birds, presumably preparing to move off. Somewhat inevitably a few Sand Martins were there to be found, with at least four hawking over Rowe’s Flashe, Winkworth, in the morning. Other decent bits over the weekend not previously mentioned included a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, Red-crested Pochard, Firecrests and Shoveler.

There was no time or suitable weather for nocmig over the weekend, but the past couple of weeks have continued to turn up some fascinating records. Tree Pipits had a little peak, which seems to have tailed off, and a few Robins and Spotted Flycatchers have been noted. Waders still steal the show though, with another big flock (calls lasted two minutes!) of Black-tailed Godwits (20th), a loud and clear Oystercatcher (21st) and a Snipe (22nd). With the occasionally blowy westerlies calming down over the next few days, I plan to get the mic out on a few nights.

Raven, The Ridge, 25/8/2018.
It’s nearly September, and time for real passerine movement, vis-mig, and so on. The weather from the weekend and beyond is tentatively encouraging – at the moment a swing to east and north-east winds are forecast, which is really what any autumn patch watcher in this part of the world is after. Hopefully a few more Whinchats, Redstarts and Yellow Wags, maybe a nice Marsh Harrier or Osprey, perhaps a wader somewhere. All would be great. But, of course, a bigger prize is what’s truly sought after at this time of year.

2017 report

With print copies of the 2017 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report now sold out, free PDF versions can be obtained - contact via twitter or email to get one.

Wheatear, Bonhurst Farm, 24/8/2018.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Black Redstart

I was pleased to find a smart Black Redstart at Bonhurst Farm on Sunday morning, the second record for the site and first since spring 1991 - before I was born! Amazingly enough that record too came from Bonhurst Farm/Birtley House, and this species is still very rare in outer Surrey, certainly in this part of the county.

It's been a surprisingly elusive bird, and extremely mobile, frequenting the adjacent paddocks and nettle stand by the northerly and smallest barn of the main farm buildings. It occasionally sat up on a fence or roof, eyeing up insect prey, before dropping down, and repeating the process around the small area. The local Pied Wagtails seemed to take a disliking to it, but the bird was unfazed.

It was still present today, though I last saw it on Monday, when I managed to capture in in slightly better light sitting on one of the wires (first image). Sadly, the photos won’t be winning any awards, as the bird just didn’t stay still for long enough, or ever come close, and on the Sunday the light was rubbish. A good number of local birders have successfully twitched it since however, and some decent shots have been achieved.

Bonhurst Farm is certainly looking good for chats and the like at the moment, and hopefully I'll find a Whinchat there soon. Any long-staying, rare passerine is decent here, and the continued visits by local birders have uncovered some smart records for the site - John R found two Wheatears today, and a Spotted Flycatcher, and Malcolm F and Dougal S photographed the third Sand Martin record of the year on Monday. I wonder what would be found if it wasn't just me patching the area...

M Fincham.

J Rowland.
 Black Redstart becomes my 139th bird here, and number 122 for 2018.

Saturday, 18 August 2018


Shpeez. Shpeeeez.

The shpeez of a flyover Tree Pipit is probably my favourite migration call. For a vis-mig devotee, such a ranking is quite the decision. The tseep of a Redwing is good, and the sweeup of a Yellow Wagtail offers the closest challenge, but there's something about an early autumn Tree Pipit, boldly propelling over my slice of Surrey countryside, that does it for me.

It's not like they can't be found fairly close to Thorncombe Street either. Winterfold Heath and the south-west commons hold healthy populations. They're still in the rare category here though - I've never had one on the deck, and there are still less than 10 records. The latter figure won't last long though, with the ever revolutionary noc-mig turning up a third of all historical records over the last two evenings.

Regardless, the sharp sound of a migrant Tree Pipit, not long after dawn on crisp late August or early September morning, is one that puts a smile on my face. Maybe it's a symbol of the realisation that summer is really coming to an end? Maybe it's just one of the particularly special qualities of vis-mig? Whatever the case, I hope to hear a couple more during the summer twilight zone, as we claw and grasp onto the last remnants of noisy beer gardens, green-leafed and life-filled woodlands, and ajar bedroom windows as we sleep.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

August Amongst Us

In my last post I mentioned the productiveness of Augusts gone by, and two weeks in it’s safe to say it seems to be putting in another solid performance in 2018, with four year ticks, one of which was a new species for the site. I also suggested in my previous post that wader movement was far from over, and indeed the new addition to the Thorncombe Street area list was one, a Dunlin, which gloriously squealed its way over Allden’s Hill 12 days ago.

Stonechat, Bonhurst Farm, 11/8/2018.
Dunlins are encountered semi-regularly by other nocturnal sound recorders, but it was a first for me, and is a relatively straightforward ID in nocmig terms. It becomes a very welcome addition to the site list, which remarkably has seen nine nocmig-based site-firsts in 2018; an extraordinary figure. A Common Sandpiper this Friday was slightly more expected, but again is a maiden nocmig species here, and the first record since Matt P had a flock of four at Rowe’s Flashe, Winkworth, on 30th April 2015. Indeed, Common Sand still somehow evades my patch list, despite being seen by three other local birders here, Matt included!

A juvenile Stonechat at Bonhurst Farm yesterday was an early record of a species that’s surprisingly rare here, with only one or two records a year. The showy individual presumably started its life not so far away, with Blackheath and Winterfold possibilities. It was busy eating insects along the fences, and with a decent count of 12 Pied Wagtails there today, I have high (relatively, for here) hopes of bagging a Whinchat at the same site later in the month/into September.
Raven, Broomy Down, 10/8/2018/

The other new bird for the year was Tree Pipit, and there has in fact been two records in the last fortnight. Again, these are very early dates, and probably involve semi-local birds moving around. I must confess that the hoarse tzeep of an overflying Tree Pipit is one of my favourite sounds of the year here, not just of early autumn, and with only a couple of records annually it’s always a treat.

Aside from these headliners, the supporting cast has been fairly tidy too. Willow Warblers are naturally being picked up more and more now, and I counted at least four at New Barn yesterday, where I was unable blag a Pied among the five Spotted Flycatchers there. The latter seem to be everywhere on patch at this time of year, and I had two at Winkworth this morning also. A Crossbill sub-singing towards Nore Hanger was a decent notebook entry yesterday (there were also two flyovers past Broomy Down on 4th), as was a family party of Firecrests at Scotsland Brook and female Red-crested Pochard at Mill Pond on 5th.

Spotted Flycatcher, New Barn, 11/8/2018.
A Peregrine past Broomy Down and Junction Field on 4th was very welcome, with this falcon, that’s fairly regular in Surrey these days, remaining scarce at best here. Indeed, it was just the second record of 2018, quite staggering when compared with Whimbrel; yet another numenius phaeopus was recorded on nocmig on 7th, making it the fourth record this year. This is demonstrative of the shape-shifting and mind-blowing powers of nocmig. Formerly a real patch mega, presumably Whimbrels are in fact fairly regular – albeit in small numbers – passing overhead during both spring and autumn.

Abel B pinned down the suddenly-elusive Little Owl pair at Thorncombe Park on 2nd. These owls charmed myself and visiting birders with their showiness last year, but for some reason have become very hard to catch up with. Perhaps the increased nearby nesting of corvids and raptors is why. Tawny Owls however seem to have had a very good year, and most nocmig sessions are frequently punctuated with various calls of this species.

Anyway, August has started well, and the month of rare consistency for here seems to be on course to deliver again. What more? Well, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff numbers are set to peak next weekend of 18th and 19th, which are also the respective August dates of migrant Wood Warblers in both 2016 and 2017.

Willow Warbler (left) and Chiffchaff, New Barn, 11/8/2018.
Consequently one of them is high on the radar, and as the weeks go on the chance of the first Redstart since 2015 increases, and Pied Fly won’t leave the possibility pile just yet. A decent raptor is due this year that’s for sure – maybe a late August Osprey or Marsh Harrier. And of course, that magic something could be just round the corner. Indeed, mid-August through to late September is the optimum time for that magical, most highly-desired emberiza nocmig gold dust.