Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Wednesday, 3 April 2019

The Wild (South) West

With a week of annual leave to use up last week, and a desire to cut down my carbon footprint, I undertook a bit of a staycation; as a result this post is a bit lengthy. Having visited Florida in January and with a couple of trips planned for later this year, I grabbed the opportunity to cover parts of south-west Surrey I’ve never been to before, some where seemingly no birders whatsoever rove … it was great fun and something I should probably do more often, certainly at better times of the year.

Red Kite, Bonhurst Farm, 26/3/2019.

The bird of the week was the aforeblogged Gannet at Unstead, with a few other treats coming in the days before that encounter. Unstead pretty much got daily visits, though it was never too lively post-LRP surprise on 25th; on 31st (the only ‘birdy’ weather of the week), however, two Swallows and a Sand Martin were over the works, and I saw three Water Rails. The other relatively well-covered spot I visited was Tuesley Farm (two Sand Martin flocks on 31st the best I managed).

Prior to the Gannet encounter, I’d walked Hydon’s Ball. A few Crossbills and a Woodlark were about, as well as a lot of dogs off leads, loud people etc. I reckon this could be one of – if not the – best vis-mig spots in this part of Surrey, but the amount of people puts me off ever trying. On Wednesday, on my way to meet David for a bit of Sussex birding, a displaying Lapwing pair near Alfold was a very pleasing sight.

Robin, Leg-of-Mutton Copse, 26/3/2019.

Yellowhammer, Tilsey Farm, 27/3/2019.

Despite all of the above, the real enjoyment came from visiting a few areas hardly ever (or seemingly never) host to birders. The far west end of the North Downs at Compton is an place I’ve never been to (despite it being less than ten minutes from my house). Indeed, the whole area – including Loseley Park and farmland up to the radio tower on the mount at Guildford – is largely unknown to me, though Sam and Dave B have birded there before and a few historical records can be picked out from the area (not least Red-backed Shrike in 2002 and Quail in 2005).

Compton downs.

Ravens, Compton downs, 27/3/2019.

Anyway, a four-and-a-half mile walk on Thursday was great fun, with some brilliant, Burgh-esque scenery (sadly not on the same scale and inevitably devoid of Grey Partridges and Corn Buntings). Indeed, the number of seedeaters was pretty grim – the habitat looked nailed on for Yellowhammer but I had none, and just a single Linnet flew over, all while the farmer sprayed pesticide on the crops. It still looks good for (another) passing Quail, though, perhaps a decent raptor during winter and – that rarest of South-West Surrey birds – Lesser Whitethroat.

A few Ravens were knocking about and there were four Skylarks singing but the best beast came on Loseley Park pond, where a drake Wigeon was cruising about – a very weird record and presumably a bit of a site mega! In some 1,200 Snowdenham Mill Pond visits I’ve seen one Wigeon, and on my first trip to this, far smaller, pond, there one was … the quirks of birding! Also here was an Egyptian Goose pair with five goslings.

Egyptian Geese, Loseley Park, 28/3/2019.

Wigeon, Loseley Park, 28/3/2019.

The big site winner of the week however was the small area of farmland to the east of Shackleford. I must thank Peter O for the tip off about this site, a really fantastic spot of relic Surrey arable farmland. I can’t remember such a density of singing Skylarks locally (at least seven), and there were loads of Linnets and raptors, as well as three Lapwings in winter stubble.

I bumped into the friendly and knowledgeable farmer Angus, who seemed very keen on birds (he informed me that the Lapwings wouldn’t stay and breed, alas) and providing habitat (they don’t use pesticide and leave big margins). I’ve already been back once and will be keeping tabs on the area for sure. I suspect birding could be slow here if one patched it, but it definitely looks ripe for that all-or-nothing Surrey rare.

Shackleford farmland.

Later on I visited some woodland right on the Surrey/Sussex border, between Alfold and Dunsfold. It was fairly slow going so I was delighted to locate a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in some ideal looking habitat. I’ve been very pleased to pin down two new sites for this species in 2019, though I couldn’t help but feel like, had I visited this area a month or so earlier, a couple more could’ve been unearthed. Five Marsh Tits were singing too, and I bet Willow Tits were here once upon a time … At Sidney Wood, a male Crossbill was in voice.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker habitat.

Patch duty was of course not neglected, though it was a slow week, unsurprising for March. That said, a Woodcock was flushed from east side of Long Field Copse on 26th, a new spring record count of 264 Meadow Pipits flew northwest over Tilsey Farm on 27th (typically it was yesterday, when I was back in the office, that seemed to be the big Mipit day of the season) and both Little Owl pairs have finally been showing a bit.

Noc-mig was productive with Water Rail, Pintail and a Golden Plover flock recorded, the latter two being the third and fourth site records respectively. You can listen to the recordings here. Headphones make the quality better but aren’t essential.

House Sparrow, Bonhurst Farm, 30/3/2019.

Stock Doves, Broomy Down, 1/4/2019.

Chaffinch, Leg-of-Mutton Copse, 26/3/2019.

On 30th I was delighted to see my first Swallow of the year, hawking over Allden’s Hill, banishing memories of the terribly slow start to spring last year as it dashed about. On 1st, four Fieldfare at Lonely Field will doubtless be the last of the year, and a site record 112 Stock Doves were feasting on the recently cut cover crops on The Ridge. We roll into April now, a month which I have found to be very hit and miss in recent years, often hinging on the weather. Hopefully there’ll be a surprise in store to follow up a very productive March.

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