Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Thrush hour

Finally, with less than six weeks until Christmas, a lengthy run of proper easterlies arrived last Wednesday. It was no surprise that a large – and possibly final – push of thrushes would occur at the first opportunity, and I duly put the microphone out on the evening of Wednesday 14. An absolute minimum 269 Redwings flew over (333 calls) by sunrise, doubtless a tiny percentage of the total numbers that took the opportunity to head south or west that night. The following day saw the thrush action continue; a relatively showy Ring Ouzel was at Tilsey Farm while a new site record count of Fieldfares passed through.

Ring Ouzel, Tilsey Farm, 15/11/2018.

A rare chance to bird midweek fortuitously coincided with this window of opportunity for patiently waiting thrushes and, given once the rush was over that’d realistically be it for vis-mig for some time, I was at Tilsey Farm before dawn. It was far from spectacular and aside from the thrushes the watch probably fell into the quiet category, but 244 Redwings and 218 Fieldfares piling west – sometimes in large flocks – meant it was an entertaining session. The previous high count of Fieldfares interestingly comes from mid-November, last year – perhaps this delayed passage is a sign of our warming climate?

David C, on his way back down to West Sussex, joined me at about 09:00. He’s had a tough debut season at his new coastal patch of Goring and we chewed the fat on this and various other topics for an hour-and-a-half or so when, at about 10:15, he spotted a Ring Ouzel hopping about on the main track. While there was clearly a big movement of thrushes going on it was still a bit of a surprise, being just the second bird of 2018, and a somewhat late record.

Ring Ouzel, Tilsey Farm, 15/11/2018.

Ring Ouzel sketch.

We spent the next half hour or so watching it as it fed on bare ground opposite the barn, often in the company of one or two continental Blackbirds. Every so often it would be spooked by a farm worker, flying up into the small hedge by the car park, before returning again. Based on its strong black tones and well-marked appearance it was a male. We left it in peace, but somewhat surprisingly there was no further sign, despite a couple of birders turning up to twitch it.

After this relative excitement (for here!) the weekend was far quieter, with a real feel of winter in the air. Vis-mig was a non-starter – it’s safe to say that, barring any freak cold weather movement from the continent, that’s it for a few months. Six Crossbills over Tilsey on Sunday were likely local and with the gripping Goosander photo still fresh in my mind I spent more time checking the water bodies.

Long-tailed Tit, Winkworth Arboretum, 17/11/2018.

No joy in terms of anything unusual (the female Red-crested Pochard was present both weekend days) despite a veritable fall of waterbirds in Surrey on Saturday: Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes, Goldeneye and Goosander (!) all at Hedgecourt Lake, both the aforementioned grebe species at Frensham Great Pond and Red-breasted Mergansers, Greater Scaups, black-necked Grebes and Brent Goose at Walton!

I spent a few hours around the Walton area on Saturday, mainly in an effort to locate Dave H’s long-staying Caspian Gull on the Thames and entice it in with some bread. I checked out Sunbury Lock and Hurst Park but there was no sign (despite Dave kindly booting it off Bessborough!) and only a handful of large gulls, though one of those was an adult Yellow-legged Gull that flew downriver. At Hurst Park there were plenty of Black-headed Gulls and a few Commons, including the below 2nd-winter bird, a plumage very rarely seen at Thorncombe Street despite the large winter flocks of this species.

Common Gull, Hurst Park, 17/11/2018.

Having completed a quiet couple of hours on patch on Sunday morning I found myself lured back to The Burgh. I really love this site. It’s peaceful, you feel like you have it to yourself at times and there are always birds to see. In a two-hour walk seven raptor species were noted, including one of the ringtail Hen Harriers that’s been around for a few weeks, a male Marsh Harrier and a Merlin that obligingly sat up in a hedgerow for a few minutes.

A few Grey Partridges were seen, but only one Corn Bunting made it into the notebook. Hopefully the wintering Bewick’s Swan herd will be back in the Arun valley soon, giving me another reason to head down. The weekend ended with Harry Kane diverting the ball home with five minutes remaining to send England to the Nations League finals next summer – happy days all-round.

Merlin, The Burgh, 18/11/2018.