Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Rails, redheads and rings

Water Rail is a species that’s become increasingly difficult to connect with at Thorncombe Street. As recently as the 1990s they bred at Winkworth Arboretum, in Phillimore, the only notable stretch of vegetated wetland in the entire area. Nowadays they are strictly a winter visitor, when one can normally be heard squealing from Phillimore at either side of the day. However, in 2017 numbers were well down, with only a handful of records, and this year was the first time I’d failed to connect with any during the first winter period.

Blurry Water Rail, Phillimore (Winkworth Arboretum), 10/11/2018.

Thankfully their continued winter presence was confirmed on Saturday with no less than three in the north end of Phillimore at dawn. Two were heard-only, but one actually showed itself – a very rare sight here – though sadly the camera focus failed me in the early morning gloom. After two noc-mig birds in spring, it was nice to know this habitat can still hold them. Indeed, with the National Trust planning to improve Phillimore in 2019, perhaps they can return as breeders one day

Aside from the rails, and a Hawfinch at Tilsey Farm later that morning, the weekend was quiet, though today Gillian S saw a Little Egret at Bramley Park Lake and a possible Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Winkworth. The unseasonable mild weather and strong southeast winds made it feel most unlike November, and there was little to write home about, leaving me to remain thoroughly gripped by a patch first midweek.

Little Egret, Bramley Park Lake, 13/11/2018 (G Stokes).

Visiting birder Steve Benton photographed two redhead Goosander at – quite surprisingly – Eastwaters Pond on Tuesday. This sawbill was probably number one on the list of likely next firsts for Thorncombe Street but nevertheless it’s a superb record and find. The secluded ponds in the north section look pretty suitable for the species, and there have been recent records on similar water bodies in Wonersh, just to the north, in recent years.

I searched in vain in atrocious conditions on Wednesday morning before work, and also at the weekend. Unfortunately it seems these birds have moved on, though they may be hiding on one of the private waters; either way I'll be keeping my eyes peeled while scanning the ducks. On that subject its worth mentioning the relative abundance of Shoveler at present, continuing their erratic status here after a poor 2016/17. Goosander is the 163rd species to be recorded in the Thorncombe Street area, and the 131st of 2018.

Goosanders, Eastwaters Pond, 6/11/2018 (S Benton).

Most of Saturday was non-birding, though during this I managed to get among the Littlehampton gulls. Aside from a somewhat shy 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull it was just Herrings and Black-heads, though a colour-ringed bird of the latter species was present. It turns out this individual was seven-years old, and in December 2016 was ringed at Jakuševec dump in Zagreb, Croatia. I found it pretty fascinating to be honest; the fact that one winter it was in the Balkans, and another in West Sussex, demonstrates the oft-nomadic life of gulls.

Black-headed Gull (S8KC), Littlehampton, 10/11/2018.

Gulls will feature more and more on the weekend menu as we slip into winter although – in keeping with the last few autumns – it seems we’re going to have a late, great gold-rush of northeasterlies from Saturday on. They are forecast to originate in the Baltic states before moving up and west through southern Scandinavia, and given the dearth of winter thrushes and finches so far, vis-mig could be pretty decent, and it’s likely a surprise or two will turn up. Of course, any such surprise is more likely on the east coast than sleepy Surrey, but we can live in hope!