If it wasn’t for two blockbuster Surrey megas in the past 10 days this post wouldn’t be here – after all, it’s late June and birding is at its lowest ebb of the year, certainly inland. However, if ever there need for proof of the ‘expect the unexpected mantra’ then a county second and eighth in quick succession are just that …
|A Surrey mega flies into the distance ...|
Last Tuesday, I’d been out on Thorncombe Street with Jeremy and Rob, ringing raptor nests. It was good fun and many thanks to Stephen Godwin-Austen for allowing us to go off-piste on his land. During the session, we also noted two Crossbills, a rather territorial Spotted Flycatcher and three each of Firecrest and Siskin.
The ringing was productive, although the young inside the Red Kite nest we hoped to get to were too developed to try for without a great chance they’d fly. I was back home and working when I received an ominous ‘call me’ message from Dave H – as sure a sign as you’ll get that it’s time to power up the A3 to Walton-on-Thames!
|A young Red Kite sits upon its rubbish-lined home.|
I got there in the nick of time. On site for little under 10 minutes, and having enjoyed decent ‘scope and bins views, the mega in question – a first-summer Bonaparte’s Gull – suddenly got flighty. It settled on the water, before getting up again and this time disappearing to the north-east.
It was all over in a flash. The bird seemed pretty settled, with its fine, black bill and bubblegum pink legs. It had come down in a mighty thunderstorm which, for me, simply adds to the awesomeness of the record. It was only my second ‘Boney’ this side of the Atlantic and my first young bird. I must say compared to the adult I’d previously seen, this individual seemed much daintier and more like a Little Gull.
There is one accepted Surrey record of Bonaparte’s Gull, also a young bird, at the then Barn Elms Reservoirs on 29 January 1983. This bird was present briefly and seen by a rather, lets say, notorious London birder. I wouldn’t be surprised if it one day gets recirculated by the BBRC and binned, rendering this 2020 individual a first for Surrey.
|The first-summer Bonaparte's Gull, a bird that could go down |
in Surrey folklore.
Only six days had passed when another text appeared from Dave, this time as I was completing a walk of Shackleford farmland – conveniently close to the A3. Within 30 minutes or so my second Surrey tick in a week (and fourth since 31 May!) was in view: Roseate Tern. This pale-plumaged and fully black-billed bird was in flight for just a couple of minutes before disappearing amid a sudden spookage of gulls.
Thankfully though, later on, I was able to enjoy better views. Roseate Tern is a species I’ve only seen twice and on each occasion it was either distant or brief. Both were many years ago. So, while this bird wasn’t exactly a shower (and I annoyingly failed to get on the deck views like most others), it was still nice to enjoy and soak up all the features in flight, not least the aforementioned pale white plumage, and long tail and short wings (recalling Swallow or even Ring-necked Parakeet, I found!).
The eighth for Surrey, and there have only been four since the early 1970s – all from 2005 on and at the same site, found by the same observer. And on that note, a huge, huge thanks for Dave. I certainly won’t be able to repay the top Surrey lister back with an equal number of additions to his county list, but I remain hugely grateful.
|Wind, distance and haze combined to limit me to very low-quality|
record shots of the Roseate Tern.
My list keeping has never been great. I love a day list, a session list and patch lists, but my world, UK and county life lists have been stored rather haphazardly in spreadsheets – only my WP list has received careful scrutiny. However, since I started using eBird last year I’ve slowly been uploading all my old notebooks, including my first, toddler-version one from 1999.
This has allowed for a gradually filling in of gaps. While uploading data the other day, I noticed my Surrey and London lists didn’t align with my county spreadsheet list as I thought (eBird doesn’t use the vice-county boundary). Long and boring story short, I’d somehow neglected to add Grey Partridge to my spreadsheet list, despite seeing several in the county. So, this turned into a welcome (albeit rather silly) armchair tick and, with the QE11 double, I’m now on 216 for the vice-county.
Other birding this past week or so has been quiet, naturally, but amazingly another south-west Surrey year tick was accrued (144). This weirdly came while I was nursing a hangover at home on Saturday – an Oystercatcher shrieked overhead. A Starling, surely, I thought. It called again, closer, and again, even closer … I raced to the nearest window and there it was, hurtling south. Rather bizarre, but this species has already been ‘noc-migged’ twice over the flat this year, and I’ve heard them here before. June seems to be a curiously good month for them in Surrey, too. A later check of Tuesley Res didn’t reveal it, sadly.
Elsewhere, I was made up to encounter a juvenile Turtle Dove at one of the three sites I’ve had birds this summer. This individual had me puzzled for a bit as it sat on a telephone wire, but it soon clicked. This species has been written off as a Surrey bird for several years now, but clearly they hang on in the far reaches of our county. This year, I’ve had a bare minimum of seven birds (including one obvious male and female pair) and three sites. Good times.
|Males of Silver-studded Blue (top) and Golden-ringed Dragonfly |
Last night, a walk at Thursley with Sam didn’t produce the desired Red-backed Shrike, nor much else to be honest. Indeed, the highlights were an emergence of Silver-studded Blue and a couple of Golden-ringed Dragonlies, as well as three vocalising Water Rails on Pudmore (where they have bred this year). The aftermath of the fire is still pretty grim, at least on Ockley Common, but much of the high-quality heathland habitat was unscathed.
The Shackleford Quail looks like it’s moved on, last heard on 22nd (and unsuccessfully looked for last night), staying just over a week. I can’t believe it’s stayed this long. While enjoying what would be my last time with the Quail, pre-Roseate twitch, I was treated to a classic weird late June Reed Warbler record.
I get these just about annually (last year in my neighbour’s garden!) – I think it’s unpaired, young males that have failed to hold a territory, as oppose to late and lost arrivals. Anyway, this one was blasting out its sulking song from a hawthorn hedge, announcing itself as my 91st Shackleford bird since I started visiting the site last year.