My last post hyped up an exciting week of easterly-led weather, with classic awesome local August birding to boot. It’s safe to say that, during this past week, the brakes have slowly been applied – and the forecast for the rest of the month looks rather disappointing. West simply isn’t best inland at this time of year and the persistent blowy and often wet conditions have slowed down the pace a little.
|The excellent year for local Whinchat passage continued this week.
It’s still been OK locally, but the more worrying thing is the forecast for the next two weeks (at least) – constant westerlies, often strong, and a grim looking northerly blow over the Bank Holiday weekend, a period in the calendar any inland patcher looks forward to eagerly. A bit more on that later.
A quick check of Tuesley first thing yielded the two Common Sandpipers, before it was off to Thursley. With main man Dave away for the week my plan was to pick up the baton a bit, but it was a fairly quiet three-mile stroll. A juvenile Cuckoo highlighted – always nice to bag one in any year, and probably the last one I’ll see until 2021, if we all make it that far!
A Kingfisher zipping over Pudmore was novel and a count of 24 Pied Wagtails there notable, but most of the birds were in and around Parish Field and Will Reeds: a Spotted Flycatcher, male Redstart, two Willow Warblers, Tree Pipit and a nice flock of 10 Woodlarks feeding several feet away from me.
|A juvenile Woodlark at Thursley.
Stopping on the way to Thorncombe Street, a circuit of Weyburn Meadows produced two each of Kingfisher and Whitethroat. Once on the patch, a short loop of New Barn proved worthwhile – not long down the track a Pied Flycatcher alighted in the first big oak. It was gone within seconds, as is often the case with this species when on passage inland.
I waited five years for a patch Pied Fly but have now enjoyed three within a year, all following influxes on the back of easterly winds. There really must have been thousands at large in the English countryside during the peak of this invasion. Four Spotted Flycatchers and a Siskin were also logged.
Wet, gloomy and miserable – a quick check of the res produced the two Common Sands and a Lesser Black-backed Gull.
A similar line-up at Tuesley first thing, before a pleasant hour and a half at The Hurtwood. Crossbills were immediately apparent and there were two small groups roving about – I got some recording here. A lovely surprise was a flyover Hawfinch, calling as it bundled north. There’s no doubt this species breeds in the Low Weald, but this was only my third record of the year and they’re always a delight to encounter.
|Chiffchaff (top) and Willow Warbler at The Hurtwood.
It didn’t take too long to find a big mixed flock and it had variety – Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Garden Warbler and five Willow Warblers – but it lacked the deeply desired Wood Warbler. A Marsh Tit was about, a Tree Pipit flew over and a family party of Stonechats were nattering to themselves as they went about their morning business. Of the 26 Chiffchaffs, one called close enough for this recording – for me, a sound heavily associated with this time of year. Several Siskins were noted.
|One of the juvenile Siskins at The Hurtwood.
There were similarly good Phylloscopus warbler numbers at Unstead SF later on, including a couple of Willow Warblers, but nothing scarcer.
A very windy day and again just a brief, and unrewarding, check of Tuesley.
Probably the best session of the week, with the wind ceasing (in the morning at least) and sun coming out. Teaming up with Sam, a dawn start at Thursley was good fun. A Green Sandpiper was on the scrapes at Pudmore but flushed as soon as we saw it, dropping back in at the south end before careering off south. A couple of Tree Pipits flew over and a Redstart in Pine Island was one of two noted throughout.
|Adult Green Sandpipers never seem to tolerate human presence for long.
Shrike Hill hosted most of the action – the second Redstart, plus a nice Wheatear foraging on the burned hill, only my second at the site this year. An adult Hobby graced us with a close fly-by and, on coming back past on the return loop, a low Yellow Wagtail announced itself as it bombed south-east. Other bits on the common included a Siskin, two Willow Warblers, a pair of Bullfinches and 18 Stonechats, including nine feeding together in Parish Field.
|Wheatear amid the regenerating heather on Shrike Hill.
Next up was Shackleford, with a Raven flushed from the Lone Barn track one of the first birds logged. A circuit produced two Whinchats – a first-winter at the north end and adult male on the east side. Of the three Red Kites, four Buzzards and one Kestrel seen, all were juveniles. Four Swifts flew over and a Blackcap subsang from a hedge.
A few more Swifts were at Tuesley afterwards, but a flyover Tree Pipit took the gold medal here – a site tick for us both. The two Common Sandpipers were present, along with four Lesser Black-backed Gulls and two distant, teasing flocks of racing pigeons. With a nice mix of inland waders appearing on the BirdGuides news page that afternoon, I tried my luck again in the evening, but was only rewarded with 8 Sand Martins and a high count of 58 Black-headed Gulls.
|A selection from Shackleford.
A six-mile walk from the Thorncombe Street south section to Dunsfold farmland and back was rather grey and windy. Limited bird action was no surprise – a mixed flock on the east side of Hascombe Hill held two Marsh Tits, a Willow Warbler and three Spotted Flycatchers and six Crossbills flew over Hive Field, but that was it really. A Yellowhammer at Painshill Farm was nice; some 40 odd Red-legged Partridges and a triple-figure count of Pheasants slightly less so, and a reminder the shooting season isn’t far away.
Things were a bit livelier at Shackleford, where a flock of three vis-migging Yellow Wagtails caught our eye (our ears actually) first. We soon located the two Whinchats, before a group of five Yellow Wags bombed over in the same south-westerly direction. I wonder how many had flown over prior to our late morning arrival? A Hobby flew over, hundreds of corvids included at least 400 Jackdaws and seven Red-legged Partridges was my highest count here.
|Any local session is made if a few vis-migging Yellow Wagtails (top three) or perching Whinchats are seen.
A visit to Unstead SF afterwards prompted the usual August ‘you can just imagine a Greenish Warbler popping out here’ dreaming versus the handful of Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler or two reality. Indeed, the best birds was a group of four Lapwings that dropped into Flooded Field.
A few steins with the football on Sunday night made for a late start, though it was nice to wake to the sound of a singing Willow Warbler a couple of gardens down. Later in the morning, a brief check of Shackleford produced the first-winter Whinchat and three Yellow Wags – part of an apparently notable Surrey passage this morning. 102 Canada Geese were tallied. You don’t need me to tell you that Tuesley was quiet – not even a Com-solation Sandpiper to claim. While working at home later on, a brief scan out the window unveiled three Swifts heading south.
|Another shot of the young Shackleford Whinchat.
As I mentioned earlier, August Bank Holiday is normally superb around here. In 2016, I enjoyed a patch Marsh Harrier, 2017 delivered Honey Buzzard, Greenshank and Yellow-legged Gull, 2018 produced Black Redstart and, last year, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher were scored.
Sadly, with the miserable forecast, it looks like it’ll be a slog from now until September, at least, save perhaps one or two calm days. Thankfully I’ve secured the minimum one August year tick I needed. Two would have been nice, but I won’t complain. And who knows, maybe the next week or so won’t be so bad after all.