|Woodlark at Frensham Common (taken on the new Nikon COOLPIX P950, |
which I'm reviewing for work). It's been a good month for this species; I've
logged them at four sites.
Having taken my foot off the patch gas last year (which bizarrely resulted in a best-ever Thorncombe Street year!), 2020 has seen me spend even less time down ‘Quality Street’. In a way, south-west Surrey has become my new patch – various circumstances mean I simply don’t have the time or energy to go full-throttle at one site (which is required, if one is seeking 'rare' birding results and stimulation).
This is fine, though, and south-west Surrey is full of other places I hold dear and enjoy birding. With a patch year list off the cards, my two ‘goals’ for 2020 were to hit 600 for the Western Palearctic and dedicate time to rare/secretive breeders in south-west Surrey. However, helped by Israel delivering beyond my greatest expectations, I in fact hit 600 several months before I’d planned on doing so.
So, to give me a loose target on top of general birding, I’m casually keeping a south-west Surrey year list. This has actually proved really fun so far. Having retrospectively worked it out, I saw 141 species in the area (as defined by the Surrey Bird Club) last year. It was a super year, with 124 of those at Thorncombe Street alone. My goal for 2020 is to record 150 species in the area – this means noc-mig records count as part of my tally too (though I’d quite like to hit 150 excluding noc-mig, if I'm honest, but I don't want it to become too serious). Last year, the combined total was 147, so it’s achievable.
|Unstead Sewage Farm looking mighty fine on a rare sunny day ...|
A big factor in this goal is that it’ll encourage me to visit many under-watched sites, and also look for different species than I perhaps wouldn't (or even couldn't) at Thorncombe Street. I suspect there will be little twitching – only Frensham is properly patched by anyone – but a bit here and there will be fun.
So, instead of rambling on about every birding excursion this past month, I’ll run through the south-west Surrey year ticks since Israel. There have been nine, leaving me on a very satisfactory total of 100. I’ll keep this update going throughout blog posts this year. Obviously certain species won’t be mentioned, so don’t think I’m slyly trying to bump my numbers up – I just won’t state every bird seen!
A rare bit of video footage for the blog, taken at Lowicks Pond, Frensham
Common, on 18th (again thanks to the COOLPIX P950).
Generally not easy in south-west Surrey, Peregrine is even scarcer in winter. The game crops at Thorncombe Street tend to lure in the odd ranging bird at this time of year, though, and I jammed one in flight on 3 February as it moved from The Ridge to Allden’s Hill. Always going to make the year list, but nice to score early and on patch.
93: Barn Owl
Another hard bird locally and another Thorncombe Street delivery, with one ghosting over the road at Selhurst Common on 5 February. I spent that particularly mild night checking a variety of woodlands in the area for different owl species, but had an underwhelming session.
94: Great Black-backed Gull
It’s always a sight to see one of these beasts cruising over rural Surrey – they’re simply rare out here!
In 2019 I saw a grand total of five, all at Thorncombe Street. March passage annually produces a few, but I (and Abel) were still chuffed to have one heave its way over Loxhill on 7th, skirting The Hurtwood as it went. Weirdly enough, Sam and I had two at the same site on 21st – the Hascombe Gap doing its thing.
I generally don’t see Blackcap in winter locally, so it was a joy to hear one from my house in Farncombe as it briefly burst into song several times from the scrub along the railway line on 14th.
A bit of a bonus to be honest, as this species isn’t annual in south-west Surrey. The extreme rain around Christmas had delivered a few onto Wrecclesham floods, but they’d all gone by 1 January. However, after a more recent deluge, Jeremy reported them again on 14th, so I undertook a pleasant local twitch the following day, when I counted an impressive 116.
98: Great Grey Shrike
Very pleased to get this in the bag at Frensham Common, albeit at the third attempt. After the blank winter of 2018-19, there was much joy when one turned up at Thursley Common in mid-December. This proved short-lived, though, as two days later it had gone. Shaun P then had it (presumably the same bird anyway) at Frensham Common before Christmas, but only for one day.
|The Frensham Common Great Grey Shrike (J Snell).|
Amazingly he had it again on 15 February, and I went on the next pleasant morning (Tuesday 18th). After a fair bit of stomping around Churst and Frensham Common I eventually saw it in flight. It then went AWOL again, before reappearing on 21st and performing well on 22nd (see Josephine’s picture, which confirm it as a first-winter).
Then, yet again, it vanished, and hasn’t been seen since. Great Grey Shrikes of course have huge winter territories and for me the explanation is simple – it’s likely been moving around the ever more disturbed Churt, Frensham, Hankley and Thursley Commons, where sadly fewer birders visit in the winter these days. I suspect the Hen Harrier, which moved from Shackleford to Thursley, has gone similarly under the radar. Anyway, a very nifty one to get on the list, even if it’d be nice to get better views (I’ll go back for more if it settles somewhere soon).
Another Loxhill bonus, Sam and I had been chatting about this very species not long before one flew east at 12:28 on 21st. I’m pretty sure this is a localised and low-level resident in the Low Weald of Surrey – before the great Hawfinch invasion of 2017 I was getting the odd bird at Thorncombe Street, and last autumn when I was seeing them regularly they were often moving from tree to tree (as oppose to migrating through).
In all, good fun, and I look forward to seeing how spring goes. I’ve connected with pretty much all the wintering specialities as well as some trickier residents. It’s been a wretched 10 months or so for Crossbill, and that’s one I still need. Other bits I had last year that I haven’t seen so far include Green Sandpiper and Red-crested Pochard. After all this rain I should probably have a stomp around for some Water Pipits in the Lammas Lands, but most of my free time recently has been spent on certain species.
|An early Little Grebe nest at Tilsey Farm on 14 February.|
|Exploring south-west Surrey has revealed promising signs regarding |
future additions to the south-west Surrey year list!
Otherwise, things have been ticking along regularly. The Cetti’s Warbler was in song again at Unstead on 14th. Pleasingly, my patch Woodlarks were in voice on 8th and it looks like they’ll breed again – I also found a completely new site for this species, where a male was singing, near Peartree Green. It looks similar to the young forestry plantation on my patch so hopes are high. A Little Grebe on two eggs at Tilsey Farm on 14th was a very early date.
Chuck in getting Yellow-browed Warbler on my Surrey list (shameful I know) and Abyssinian Roller on my WP tally (to take it to 600), then it’s been a good few weeks. I look forward to the return of my camera and spring.