Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 5 November 2018

The spice of life

A nice weekend with a variety of sites, taking in some that I’d not visited for a long time, as well as an overdue high-quality vis-mig on patch. With several Great Grey Shrikes appearing at various locations throughout the country during the past week or so I thought I’d visit Thursley Common in an attempt to find one. Thursley is a traditional site for Great Grey Shrike, and has hosted wintering birds for decades. With big winter territories and mobile habits it can be hard enough to find one there even when you know one’s about and, alas, I couldn’t locate one on Saturday morning despite spending a few hours traipsing around.

Dartford Warbler, Thursley Common, 3/11/2018.
I did however manage a nice selection of species including – most surprisingly – a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, which was with a tit and Goldcrest flock at the top of Elstead Common, on the edge of woodland to the south of Pot Common. A pair is thought to still breed near Witley Common but it was one of those brilliant moments when you chance upon a species you’re totally not expecting to see. I also had a flyover Hawfinch, a late House Martin zipping around on the southerly wind, a few Bramblings and nice views of Dartford Warblers.

I do have a fondness of Thursley. I visited lots when I was younger, and also spent some memorable days there in more recent years while reconnecting with the Surrey scene. I feel like a lot gets missed there (I’m unaware of anyone who patches it or even works it regularly), but I’ve always been put off by its popularity; it can be heaving with families and dog-walkers in nice weather, and during the spring and summer an offensive amount of people come to photograph a Cuckoo that’s been tamed by years of meal worm feeding …

Springhead Hill, 3/11/2018.
After a quick glance at Mill Pond it was off to Sussex. With the sun out, a gentle breeze from the south and an apparent influx of Rough-legged Buzzards into the country I decided to have a have a stab at finding one myself. The Burgh (or realistically the whole South Downs network from Arundel up to Amberley and east to Kithurst Hill) is one of my most favourite places. It’s beautiful, with endless far-reaching vistas, and carefully managed farmland habitat with the associated birdlife creates an almost nostalgic feeling when walking the area. I’ve mentioned how much I like the area before, and it’s somewhere that’d be a dream to patch.

Hen Harrier, Wepham Down (The Burgh), 3/11/2018.
The beloved and I looped round from Springhead Hill, down to the Burgh, then back up via Rackham Hill in glorious conditions. There were hardly any other people about, and despite not finding a Rough-legged Buzzard the list of birds was decent (indeed unimaginable if one was in Surrey): a ringtail Hen Harrier, with strikingly rufous underparts that suggested it was a young bird, two coveys of Grey Partridges and a couple of Corn Buntings highlighted, with plenty of Skylarks and Yellowhammers. I reckon I’ll visit again soon.

Sunday was patch day, with the slightest hint of east in a southerly wind enough to tempt me into a pre-dawn vismig start. I was rewarded with comfortably my best watch of the season – 24 species in total, including a seriously high-flying Little Egret moving northeast, 33 Bramblings (including a single flock of 28), 6,369 Woodpigeons, 519 Redwings, 80 Fieldfares, 86 Starlings, two each of Yellowhammer and Skylark and 69 Chaffinches.

Little Egret, Tilsey Farm, 4/11/2018.
It was nice to finally enjoy the type of vismig session I know the patch is capable of. I’ve been starved of sessions the last couple of months, mainly because of work, and it’s meant I’ve needed to reshape my birding quite a bit. As a result, it felt good to be reminded of how enjoyable standing in a field close to home can be. Last week, noc-mig delivered perhaps its final gift of an unbelievably successful first year of sound-recording here, picking up at least one Brent Goose as it purred its way over Allden’s Hill at 00:43 on 31st. This constitutes the third site record.

There is little to expect from the patch for the rest of the year, save the totally unexpected or perhaps an unusual duck. I thought I’d scored big in the latter department when I spotted a lone Eider on a private pond … unfortunately there was more than one, and indeed it transpired a rather extravagant collection is going on!

Pet Eiders (!), southwest Surrey, 4/11/2018.