It seems a bit of reverse psychology with the weather did the trick. In my last post I was bemoaning the upcoming poor conditions and, while they did indeed come, they delivered birds locally, especially over the Bank Holiday weekend. This late August national holiday performs without fail in south-west Surrey every year. So, despite the first half of the past seven days being a bit grim, it turned out alright in the end …
|Dunlin at Shackleford: a local moment that will be remembered for a long time.|
A very wet and windy day as a miserable westerly front took its time to move through southern England. Tuesley held two Common Sandpipers and a well-developed juvenile Common Tern was at Frensham Great Pond. I don’t think the latter species bred at either pond this year so I’m not sure where it came from. There were hundreds of hirundines also.
|Wanted Black, got Common ...|
A clear day after the murk, but still very windy. Even more hirundines were now collected over Frensham Great Pond, a marvellous spectacle, and I estimated some 250 House Martins with slightly lesser numbers of both other species. Otherwise it was quiet: a Willow Warbler sang near the beach and two Egyptian Geese sheltered with a flock of Black-headed Gulls on the boat club jetty.
|Hirundines over Frensham Great Pond in the early morning light.|
Three Sand Martins and the Common Sands were at Tuesley afterwards. Later in the day, a meeting at Unstead SF was livened up by a flyover Hobby and singles of Reed and Willow Warbler.
|Hobby over Unstead SF.|
The first calm day in a while brought a gentle south-westerly and cloud cover, so I opted to try a vis-mig session at Shackleford. I've wondered if this site will be good for vis-mig, but remain unsure. That said, 27 Yellow Wagtails was a fine haul and easily my biggest every Surrey flock. Some 14 of these flew in together and dropped into one of the cow fields, before moving on. Sound recording here.
Two Wheatears, a Redstart, two Willow Warblers and a southbound Tree Pipit were other migrant highlights, while an impressive 421 Canada Geese were tallied flying in from the south and west to feed – presumably from roosts at Pudmore and Cutt Mill or Tice’s. Other notable bits included four Ring-necked Parakeets and a Coal Tit (rare here).
|Assorted bits from Shackleford on 31st ...|
The morning felt good and Tuesley produced too, with a smart juvenile Dunlin working the southern shoreline. Two Wheatears perched on the fences were my first here this year and the two Common Sandpipers were about.
|... and from Tuesley the same morning.|
I then planned a long walk from Dunsfold to Bramley, and it got off to a great start when, on the narrow footpath between Telegraph Hill and Painshill Cottage, I nearly trod on a Grasshopper Warbler! The bird flicked into one of the dense hedges, looked at me rather angrily for about 30 seconds then vanished. A really pleasing record – I’ve never found an autumn bird in Surrey before.
This whole area has potential, I think, though I only added two Willow Warblers to the migrant haul here. New Barn was quiet, save a Spotted Flycatcher and another Wilwa. A Firecrest sang at Selhurst Common. By the time I got to Bonhurst Farm, to catch up with Steve (who was ringing), the sun was out and things were livening up. Two Yellow Wags whizzed over.
|A rather irked Grasshopper Warbler at Dunsfold.|
After a bit of time here, we couldn’t resist a search for an extremely exciting warbler found by Kit earlier on along the Wey near Shalford. Sadly, there had been no further sign and we failed to prize it out. Potentially, a huge one that got away … another Yellow Wagtail flew south.
A late Swift was over Tuesley, with 40 Sand Martins and the two Common Sands were noted. A similar cast at Shackleford was enhanced a little by two Whinchats by the model airfield; six Wheatears, 14 Yellow Wags and two Willow Warblers were also logged, along with a female-type Redstart. All pleasant, but hopes weren’t especially high heading into a Bank Holiday during which the temperatures would plummet to 5 Celsius overnight!
|Yet more Shackleford delights.|
A gloomy start to the morning at Tuesley was immediately brightened up by the mellow call of a Ringed Plover. It didn’t take long to locate the bird, a dapper adult, resting on the south shore. This species is a real rarity here (this was only the fifth record) and, in general, they are very hard to see in south-west Surrey. It wasn’t quite a south-west Surrey year tick as I had one go through on a foggy early April morning, but it was a great start to what would be an excellent couple of days …
|One of two local Ringed Plovers over the weekend.|
A big flock of Sand Martins were present too, 100 or so, seemingly held up by the weather. Unsurprisingly thus, a Hobby zipped through, unfortunately putting up the ringo which departed high south. Singles of Common Sandpiper and Common Gull were also noted. A quick check of Snowdenham Mill Pond felt autumnal: three Shoveler (an adult drake and female and juvenile drake; family party?) and Siskin highlighting.
|In the bottom photo, from left to right: juvenile drake, adult (eclipse) drake and adult female.|
In all, despite the pessimistic outlook for the weekend, it had started well – but it was about to get infinitely better. Having parked up at Shackleford, a cursory scan of the muddy puddle in the corner of one of the north fields revealed a Wheatear and … a Dunlin!
|The Dunlin was initially picked out in the middle of a muddy puddle ...|
It beggared belief, but there it was – a spanking juvenile, clearly a little unsure about what optimum calidrid habitat was and certainly unfussed by human presence. During the next hour or so, it showed down to a few metres, successfully probing the bare earth and often sharing it’s ‘scrape’ with a Dunnock or Robin.
|The showy juvenile Dunlin and a group of delighted onlookers.|
A steady trickle of local birders rocked up to appreciate this bizarre but wonderful record. A very fine bird locally away from Tuesley and yet another example of the ‘Love Shack’ delivering the goods. The rest of the session was decent too: my first Sand Martin for the site, six Yellow Wagtails and two apiece of Whinchat and Wheatear. Local birding at its very best.
|The puddle's recently resident Wheatear had to be happy as a sideshow.|
Buoyed by the Dunlin, Sam and I were up and at ‘em on another dreary morning beneath leaden grey skies at Tuesley. We were most surprised to hear a Ringed Plover – again, one was on the south shore. Was it the same? A couple of plumage difference suggest not and, given the bird the previous day had mad a hasty post-Hobby exit, it seemed like two individuals had gone through. Holmethorpe, Tice’s and Leith Hill (!) all scored ringos over the weekend so presumably there was a bit of passage going on.
A Common Sandpiper was also present. Then, at about 06:58, I clocked a raptor high above the res and, raising my bins to it, soon told Sam in no uncertain terms that it was a Marsh Harrier! It battled slowly south-west, with the strong north-west wind pushing it about a fair bit, occasionally circling and revealing it’s cream crown – a female or juvenile. After watching it for about 10 minutes, it was lost to the south-west. I called Dave immediately in case he could connect at Thursley, but sadly he didn’t.
|Marsh Harrier: always an unlikely addition to any year list around here and a real delight to pick out on Sunday.|
There has been a Marsh Harrier loitering at Tice’s this month, seen on about four or five dates. Add in a recent report from Thursley, and it seems possible an individual is roaming the area, perhaps spending much time at Ash Ranges. This bird was up early so presumably roosted nearby … whatever the case, it represented a huge and extremely welcome south-west Surrey year tick: number 147. It was also a Surrey lifer for Sam.
Soon after the local Barnacle Goose flew over with two Canadas, and a couple of Yellow Wagtails whizzed south. I’ve been hammering Tuesley for a wader year list addition, so the Marsh Harrier was a very welcome surprise.
|Barnacle Goose and Cormorants over Tuesley, the latter uncommon at the site.|
Shackleford was up next and, while the Dunlin had gone by yesterday evening, we still racked up decent migrant tallies, including singles of Redstart and Willow Warbler, six Wheatears, five Yellow Wagtails and 2 Whinchats. Some 10 Stonechats were dotted about too.
Still on a harrier high, we climbed up to the transmitter on Loseley Downs for a skywatch but weren’t rewarded – two Swifts and a Reed Bunting were the best bits. Later that evening, I walked Thursley but didn’t see much at all, with a Willow Warbler, the regular heathland fare and a Siskin of note, as well as a Little Grebe on Pudmore.
|Stonechat and Wheatears at Shackleford.|
I started at the res, where the cold northerly and clear skies made things seem very wintry. My first ever August Meadow Pipit on the local area was a bit of a surprise when it dropped in to the wagtail feeding frenzy on the res, which included two Yellow Wagtails.
A Green Sandpiper announced itself as it flew straight through and a juvenile Common Tern was present, along with plenty of hirundines including 40 or more Sand Martins. A Tufted Duck was the first on the res for a few weeks.
|Yellow Wagtail and Sand Martin action at the res. All three regular British wagtails made it into the second image!|
It was a familiar lineup at Shackleford, though seven Meadow Pipits added to the feeling that it was more like late October than late August. The first-winter male Redstart that’s been in Cuckoo Corner for a few days finally gave itself up for the camera, while two each of Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear were seen.
Later in the day, my partner and I visited a couple of places we're considering moving to, meaning there was time for a couple of walks in the Arun valley. En route to Sussex, a Whinchat was at Bonhurst Farm – what a year for the species locally.
|Meadow Pipit, Redstart and Wheatears from Shackleford.|
Two more Whinchats were seen at Waltham Brooks, a cracking, compact site of grazing marsh, scrub and river next to the Arun. Also logged were Cetti’s Warbler, Water Rail and an eclipse drake Wigeon in with decent numbers of Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. A couple of Yellow Wagtails flew over.
Best of all came near the sewage works just over the railway line, where a mixed flock of passerines included two Spotted Flycatchers and a single, very fleeting, Pied Flycatcher – the third I’ve found this month. The entire, three-mile stroll very much gave the impression it’d make a lovely patch …
|Whinchats and Wigeon at Waltham Brooks.|
Up on The Burgh later on, no fewer than seven raptor species were logged in an hour, along with a small covey of Grey Partridges. Most notable, though, was the clear migration going on – hundreds of Swallows and House Martins were powering south, with a few Meadow Pipits and Yellow Wags for good measure. As far as I know, nobody properly vis-migs the South Downs in Sussex, which is criminal to say the least.
And that concluded August. In all – and as ever – a success: two year ticks for my south-west Surrey 150 quest, heaps of really fun sessions in the field, a wide range of species (115 locally), lots of pleasant finds and, with the Dunlin, a birding memory that will long be remembered. What will September bring?