Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday 30 November 2020

The late, late show

In my last post I wrote: ‘one last good local bird before 2021 – ideally a nice and easy twitch of something found by someone else – would cap the year off nicely’. Incredibly, and in a weird strain of reverse psychology, this happened, with Dave B deservedly finding a Surrey epic on Friday. In fact, it was much more than a ‘good local bird’ and adds another incredible species to this maddest of autumns in south-west Surrey. Indeed, a switch to easterlies these last few days has meant autumn is treating us to a very late show, and maybe there’s more to come.

Rustic Bunting at Thursley, which joins Short-toed Lark, Little Bunting and Wryneck as ridiculous visitors to south-west Surrey this autumn.

Wednesday 25th

A flyover Little Egret was noted while I was working in the morning, only the second I’ve had from my home.

Thursday 26th

I went somewhere new this morning and it proved a good decision. I wasn’t aware one can walk Holmen’s Grove, a forestry commission site just north of Grayswood, but it turns out you can. Much like Chiddingfold Forest, I suspect all these Low Weald woodland sites have good potential and a benefit of Holmen’s is that there are more clearings than you’d expect – useful for keeping track of a flock of finches, for example.

Apart from decent numbers of Marsh Tit it was a quiet start, until I located a some 50 or more Lesser Redpolls in an open area on the west side. Careful scanning soon revealed a frostier, chunkier beast among them – surely a good candidate for Mealy Redpoll from the off. As they always are, the flock was very flighty and it took a good hour or so before satisfactory views and poor photographs were obtained.

A visit to a new site delivered this Mealy Redpoll.

The dull light didn’t help, but the opinion of myself and the majority of folk I consulted was that this was a good Mealy Redpoll. The features were surely too extreme for a pale Lesser (indeed most Lessers I see at the moment are very buffy-brown, almost Twite-like). I’m cautious with redpolls and it’s likely they’ll all be lumped soon. Some 32 Crossbills were present not far away and seemed to be dropping to the ground out of view, presumably to drink. Slightly more unexpected were flyover sightings of Cormorant and Grey Wagtail.

Crossbills at Holmen's Grove.

At dusk, I walked Shackleford. A lack of winter stubble seems to have made the site less productive, especially compared to this time last year when a Hen Harrier and large Lapwing flock were present. It was rather quiet, but about 25 minutes after sunset things sprang into life a little. A couple of Grey Partridges began to sing, then seven were seen in flight, before a Little Owl started calling to the north and 45 Fieldfares flew to roost.

Friday 27th

A day off, but a foggy start meant a lazy start and I was lying in bed when a message came through from Dave. It read ‘tell me I’m not going mad’ and was accompanied by a full-frame back-of-camera photo of a Rustic Bunting! A bolt out the door, breakneck speed trip to the Moat car park and sprint – which was not easy through mud in wellies! – across Thursley Common had me clapping my eyes on a dreamy first-winter Rustic Bunting some 25 minutes later.

I’d barely caught my breath by the time I saw the bird which, with its boldly-marked, creamy supercilium, pale underparts, rufous flank streaks, wing bars and ear-covert spot stood out like a sore thumb amid the dull tones of the vegetation. Amazingly, it was in the exact same spot as the Little Bunting, which soon showed as well. After enjoying the moment and appreciating the calm before the storm, we knew it was time to put news out and open the floodgates for the masses …

Rustic Bunting action.

In what has been a crazy autumn in south-west Surrey, this is perhaps the peak – only a second for the vice-county (the last bird was, amazingly, also with a Little Bunting, at Beddington in 1993) and a BB rarity to boot. A massive hats off to Dave, with whom it’s been great to join on Thursley this year, encouraging each other along during the (many) dry spells. He has worked the site for years and it’s a well-deserved mega find. You can't beat a BB on your inland patch! The Rustic puts me on 158 for my south-west Surrey big year and is my 221st county bird.

As we watched, a Lapwing flew over, which was a year tick for him and only the second record on the common this year. We slipped away as the first birders arrived, checking Forked Pond for Goosander. None there, but two Little Egrets were rather curiously up in the trees, seemingly looking for prey from height, and a Kingfisher called. A Crossbill by the Moat rounded off a memorable morning

Green Woodpecker and Lapwing at Thursley.

At dusk, I tried again for the Bittern at Frensham. As ever, no joy. Highlights were a female Pochard and 1,000 or more Black-headed Gulls roosting on the Great Pond and, at the Little Pond, two Little Egrets, Kingfisher, Water Rail and Crossbill. Best of all was a surprisingly impressive Starling murmuration of some 3,500 birds, before they descended into their reedbed roost.

Saturday 28th

Sam had dipped the Rustic yesterday so I joined him first thing for another go. It was crazily busy – some 60 or so birders on site – but this included plenty of familiar faces and friends. Despite the gloom, it was a fun watch on Ockley with both the Rustic and Little Buntings showing well, if briefly and sporadically. At one point they sat up together, to the delight of the crowd. A Brambling flew over along with a couple of Crossbills, while 11 Teal, a Raven and eight Woodlarks were also of note.

A rubbish photo, but it is of a Little Bunting (upper left) and Rustic Bunting (lower right) in the same tree in Surrey!

I met up with Sam again later in the day and walked Shackleford with him and Gabriel. We dipped Peter O’s Black Redstart – and were then gripped by his news of a flyover Brent Goose – but did see some 70 odd Skylarks, six Stonechats and a big female Sparrowhawk. On the pond at Lydling Farm, a Coot was my first since 7 June when the breeding pair dispersed.

Tuesley res was quiet, with a few showy Siskins around the alders, and Thundry Meadows was fairly steady too though we did pick up a flyover Brambling, as well as a Kestrel, 12 Siskins and a Lesser Redpoll. There were no Goosander on Cutt Mill Ponds, and by 3.30 pm fog had rolled back in so we called it a day.

Sunday 29th

Murky conditions and the lingering north-easterly wind meant waterbodies were the order of the morning. I did a big sweep of Tuesley, Enton, Winkworth and Snowdenham Mill Pond, falling a little short of the notable mark, but still seeing some good bits. The highlight was a Wigeon pair on the mill pond – only my second record of this species at this locale in five years. 

Wigeon on patch is always good value.

Interestingly, Sam had a pair at Broadwater – a site that never gets anything of note – so there was presumably some movement of the species overnight. I even managed to see his birds as they were flying around when I met him at the car park! We then walked Shackleford, where seven Golden Plovers overhead were the best. Interestingly, seven were at Tice’s 10 minutes later and you’d think they were the same. Two Lapwings also bombed through but it was otherwise quiet.

Golden Plovers over Shackleford.
Monday 30th

Thick fog this morning – the type forecast every day since last week but, thankfully, hadn’t yet come to fruition. It was hard to ‘scope Frensham Great Pond but six Pochard, exactly 50 Tufted Duck and a couple of hundred Black-headed Gulls were noted, along with four Crossbills. A flyover Mandarin was, according to eBird, my first at the Great Pond.

A second day of a remarkable influx of White-fronted Geese to south-east England had brought one to Surrey, so I decided to cycle Broadwater Lake and the river on my lunch break. No geese, but at Unstead Water Meadows two Water Rails, two Bullfinches and some 60 Siskins were good value. 

Back home, and news of more Surrey White-fronts – including an impressive 18 found by Mark D at Betchworth – saw me throw in the work towel and join Dave on a south-west Surrey wild goose chase. We checked every likely spot but struggled to find any geese full-stop, though our efforts were rewarded close to sunset when, much to our surprise, a Great Egret flew over the A3 at Eashing! The bird, which I make out to only be the eighth for south-west Surrey, had clearly just come off the River Wey and was presumably heading to roost. Very jammy!

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Running on empty

It’s been a slow week. After such a fantastic 2020 locally it’s safe to say I’m running on empty a bit, struggling for inspiration during this period of the year I particularly dislike. 11 months of thrashing your local area can definitely leave you jaded, especially when you’ve achieved your goal, have limited worthwhile options to chase and the weather is largely unenjoyable. Some time away would be just the ticket but that’s not happening any time soon. One last good local bird before 2021 – ideally a nice and easy twitch of something found by someone else – would cap the year off nicely.

Egyptian Geese over Thursley.

Wednesday 18th

Breezy but brighter than forecast and still quite mild. With eBird temporarily down it was back to the notebook on The Hurtwood this morning, though there was very little to go in it; two each of Crossbill and Lesser Redpoll were noted amid underwhelming finch numbers. It was interesting to hear a Dartford Warbler – after a pair bred here this summer it seems at least one has stuck around to winter. Woodpigeon numbers were still notable overhead, serving as a reminder that the year hasn’t quite let go of autumn’s coattails just yet.

On the way to Snowdenham Mill Pond, travelling with the window down paid off when I heard a Little Owl calling from within Thorncombe Park. The pair here were regular as clockwork on their roadside perch up until spring 2018, when they vanished, and I suspected they’d moved deeper into the private park. So, it was nice to know the species is indeed still present at this site. On the pond, as has been the case recently, the only wildfowl were Gadwall (10) and Mallard (27).

Thursday 19th

For a good half-hour or so in the morning attempts to work were not helped by a first-winter Mistle Thrush going berserk in the yew tree in the front garden. There seemed to be no good reason for its apparent deep concern, as it simultaneously wolfed down berries while kicking off.

Friday 20th

A clear night and a switch to a direct westerly meant it there was sharp frost overnight with the temperature just below zero when I headed out – just how winter should be! With the Little Bunting not seen for nine days I figured it’d be quiet enough to return there for the first time in a fortnight … a glorious sunrise above the frozen common was enjoyed as squealing Water Rails, honking geese and overhead finches made themselves known before dawn.

A frosty Thursley Common.

A bit of Woodpigeon movement was going on overhead while I walked Ockley. Birchy Pond held nothing, but upon rejoining the main footpath I soon heard that familiar ‘tick’. After a bit of a wait, I eventually located the Little Bunting in the usual spot, a month and a day after I first found it. Clearly it's finding plenty to eat, but today was the first time I saw it alone and it was more skittish than before. I suspect a few more cold snaps into December could move it along (especially considering it should be in South-East Asia now!) but we’ll see. It could easily winter.

The Little Bunting not enjoying the cold. 

There was plenty of finch action and I tallied nine species in all, including such Thursley scarcities as Greenfinch (only my second on the common this year!) and Bullfinch (my sixth there this year), as well as a Brambling and 22 Crossbills. The latter haul included a flock of 13 by Truxford. No Parrots, sadly ...

Crossbill tucking into breakfast.

Saturday 21st

Back to mild and breezy, and an early walk around Thursley was a parody of yesterday with very little of note. I didn’t look for the bunting but others reported no sign – the best I managed was a few Crossbills and a Tawny Owl, the latter being a handy addition to my ‘lockdown two patch challenge’ with David. 

On the way back, a look at Cutt Mill Ponds produced the first local Goosander of the winter – an adult drake. Numbers of this sawbill should build at this traditional locale in the coming weeks, especially if we get any cold weather. Also of note were a small flock of Siskins, a Kingfisher and a Grey Wagtail.

The first local Goosander of the winter.

Sunday 22nd

A mid-afternoon walk around Shackleford was under pleasant blue skies but very quiet in terms of birds, though a Woodlark that flew over the main track was only my second here. With news that Shaun P had seen a Bittern at Frensham Little Pond earlier in the morning I staked out the site around dusk. It was mind-blowingly busy and I didn’t see any Bitterns, with the usual Water Rails, Kingfisher, Crossbills and Grey Wagtails of note.

Monday 23rd

An hour-and-a-half at Frensham Little Pond first thing ensured back-to-back Bittern dips were complete for the second week running. A Brambling flew over, along with four Crossbills, while the usual four Little Egrets and a couple of Water Rails were noted pre-dawn. Other bits included some 1,000 Starlings out of their reedbed roost, a male Sparrowhawk and two flyover Woodlarks.

Mute Swans at Frensham Little Pond.

Tuesday 24th

Mild and dull again. I walked around the Lammas Lands early morning, with the best bird easily a Jack Snipe in an area Sam had located two on Sunday. I also notched up 18 Common Snipe without covering the entirety of both meadows, so presumably there is a decent amount here. Four Reed Buntings included a singing male, and singles of Grey Wagtail, Kestrel and Siskin were also noted.

Snipe at the Lammas Lands.

I then visited The Ridge at Thorncombe Street – my old stomping ground – for the first time in months. Two Ravens cronked overhead and a few birds in the cover crops included five Reed Buntings and about double the number of Linnets. It seems it won't be a classic winter up there yet again, unlike 2015-16 and 2017-18 when heaps of finches and buntings used the area. A covey of six Red-legged Partridges were at Slades Farm and four Gadwall were on Snowdenham Mill Pond.

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Wet and windy

The last week or so has been rather slow. I really dislike this mild, wet and windy weather we seem to be getting more and more during winter – it’s generally poor for birding and isn’t exactly nice to be outside in. It does however mean new habitats appear locally, namely along the Wey where the seasonal floodplains can transform the otherwise quiet river valley into a hot-spot for birds. And during the slow season this means something of a change of scenery, which is never a bad thing.

A rare local encounter with a Wigeon flock, thanks to the heavy rainfall this week.

Tuesday 10th

An overcast and rather mild morning. Some 12 Gadwall were on Snowdenham Mill Pond first thing, along with the dark Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid. I was greeted by two unruly Egyptian Geese at Unstead SF, where the highlight of the session was my first local Cetti’s Warbler since spring. This is possibly the same bird that wintered here last season. It’s favoured patch of scrub has been cut down and it was singing sporadically from back of the South Meadow, a spot it didn’t frequent last winter.

Other bits included two heard-only Water Rails, two Little Egrets over, a small party of Lesser Redpolls and three Chiffchaffs, as well as southbound flocks of Greylag Geese totalling 42 birds. A quick scan of the flash at Trunley Heath Farm produced 13 Teal, 9 of which were displaying drakes. 

Egyptian Goose doing its best to be seen and Cetti's Warbler doing the opposite at Unstead.

Wednesday 11th

The southerly wind was a little in the east this morning and had picked up, so it was a much chillier start. Shackleford was the main site and a productive loop saw me match by best species haul in one visit (45). Best of all was the continued presence of the Grey Partridges – a rusty-red head of a male was seen sticking out of the alalfa and a couple of calls were heard, before the group of eight were seen in flight a little later on. Interestingly, I thought I heard another, separate bird, calling from the north fields. There must be a good chance this group will stick around for a while …

Other bits included at least two Bramblings buzzing around, a sole Lapwing, 11 Red-legged Partridges, a Chiffchaff, three Stonechats, two Kestrels and a single flock of 40 or so Skylarks flushed up from the north fields. There seemed to be a bit of Stock Dove movement overhead too. Six Teal on the reedy pond at Lydling Farm were my first here this winter.

Red Kites and Brambling at Shackleford.

A Raven flew over Peper Harow Park on my way to Weyburn Meadows, where a circuit of the boardwalk produced a female Stonechat, three Bullfinches, a Mandarin, two Lesser Redpolls and a busy flock of 50 or more Siskins

Thursday 12th

Another breezy morning with the forecast sunshine taking a good hour or so after dawn to appear. Witley Common was my first port of call. This site seems a little underloved with encroaching birch scrub prevalent across the main ‘heath’. Despite that three Dartford Warblers were seen, though not loads else, with 12 Crossbills, singles of Chiffchaff, Bullfinch and Siskin and six Lesser Redpolls of note.

I then walked Imbhams Farm, near Grayswood, and things had picked up in tandem with the sun’s arrival. The winter crops held good numbers of finches with Linnet the main species – 85 was a conservative guess as to the number of chattering birds there were in the flock. A Brambling was heard a couple of times, along with a Reed Bunting

Four female-type Teal were on the pond but one was clearly larger and paler than the three other smaller and buffier individuals. Indeed, they were acting rather like a family party ... interestingly this is where I had my latest local spring birds – a pair – on 26 April. Given dabbling ducks' affinities to particularly water bodies around here, I wonder if this was the same female and she’d perhaps nested nearby (maybe even at Thursley, where a pair bred successfully this season).

Friday 13th

A walk around Shackleford at the end of the day with Sam was largely uneventful in mild conditions, though it sprang into life after sundown. We had managed the eight Grey Partridges, which were flushed from the set aside along with four of their Red-legged congeners, and when the sun went down the chorus of singing males began with at least three in voice in the alfalfa.

Then, with little light left, a Woodcock flew in from the north and landed in the alfalfa. To our surprise it was joined by a flock of Lapwings which arrived when it was nearly total darkness. These birds obviously use the alfalfa to forage in at night – all rather interesting and probably explains the records of Snipe and Golden Plover recently. To round things off, a Little Owl called briefly from the trees along Hook Lane.

Saturday 14th

A pretty foul morning – wet, windy and the remaining leaves dropping off trees at rate of knots. I checked out Winkworth Arboretum for the first time in a while. It was quiet, but 12 Little Grebes was a great count and my highest for the site. Three Tufted Duck and six Mandarin were also about. Snowdenham Mill Pond had nine Gadwall and a Shoveler, but Bramley Park Lake was dead.

A late morning scan of the Shackleford gull flock produced five Lesser Black-backed Gulls, before my first ever visit to Enton Lakes – sadly a private site – saw me finally connect with Pochard at a south-west Surrey locale this year away from Frensham. Four (three drakes) were on the main lake which seems rather impressive and undoubtedly gets stuff. Other bits included a Kingfisher and 12 Siskins.

Assorted wildfowl at Enton.

While checking Tuesley the weather closed in and I retuned to the car soaked, having seen nothing of note. On the way out west, a flock of 41 Greylag and 70 Canada Geese were in a stubble field off Suffield Lane, near Puttenham. Waverley Abbey lake held the usual decent Coot numbers (31) and Frensham Great Pond had seven Pochard (two females).

Sunday 15th

After heavy rain overnight, the morning continued in the same manner – I didn’t venture out until an unexpected break in the conditions late morning. Driving past the Lammas Lands, where three Little Egrets were feeding, I was surprised to see there had been some considerable flooding for this early in the season. Upon arrival at Hankley Common I was amazed at the volume of cars. In total I counted 74 vehicles. If each car had two people then there were some 148 out on the common, although realistically there would have been more than 200, with plenty of dogs to boot … 

Plan B was quickly hatched and the pleasingly Wreccelsham Water Meadows was virtually devoid of people. An hour’s walk around the floodplains (where possible) at Wey Bank Farm and Willey Mill produced a Little Egret, two Stonechats, a Bullfinch, two Siskins and – that uncommonest of south-west Surrey birds – Wigeon. Some 54 were tallied up; presumably these had been flooded out of nearby Tice’s Meadow. I’ve seen Wigeon nowhere else locally this year and indeed average about two a year around these parts. But, when it floods at Wrecclesham, they’re guaranteed.

Wigeon and Egyptian Geese enjoying the floods.

A Little Egret was on the floods south-east of Frensham village, while an outrageously busy Frensham Great Pond didn’t seem to deter the Aythya flock from relaxing close to the shore by the hotel. Here, among 46 Tufted Duck, were 11 Pochard – my first local double-figure count of the species this season.

Sleepy Pochard.

Monday 16th

The first of two days off. With little realistic year list targets left and the weather very uninspiring I was lacking ideas, so plumped for Shackleford first thing. It was rather bleak in terms of birds – one Raven highlighted over the main fields, though a wander around the shooting crops to the west were better with two Yellowhammers amid a small mixed finch / bunting flock that also included five Lesser Redpolls. A Chiffchaff was in a nearby hawthorn hedge.

I had enough energy to stakeout an amazingly busy Frensham Little Pond at dusk in the hope of a Bittern. Like all my first winter period efforts, though, I drew a blank, but four each of Water Rail and Little Egret (the latter seemingly into roost), two Firecrests, a Kingfisher and at least 100 Pied Wagtails into the reedbed were pleasant enough.

Tuesday 17th

Determined – or foolish – I was back at the Little Pond at first light. Again there was no Bittern, and the cast of other birds were similar to yesterday including the four Little Egrets departing their roost. Six Crossbills flew over too. The Great Pond was similarly ‘as you were’, with 10 Pochard roosting off the hotel. The water levels were receding at the next stop, Wrecclesham, but 32 Wigeon were still about and three Mute Swans were present as well.

After the enjoyable session yesterday I again visited the water meadows along the Wey from Farncombe to Peasmarsh, where the mega floodplain on each side of Tilthams Corner Road was still bustling with birds. These included some 300 Black-headed Gulls (and a handful of Commons and Herrings), 160 Canada Geese, no fewer than 18 Egyptian Geese, a Lapwing and an impressive seven Little Egrets together in one damp field. Cattle Egret has to be a shout here soon …

Common Gull, Little Egrets and Herring Gull from the Unstead floods.

A Gadwall pair on the deep water by Upper Unstead Farm were my first here. This floodplain never seems to get loads of wildfowl in – I think its narrow shape and wood-fringed border perhaps puts off species like Wigeon. It is nevertheless an impressive spectacle when it floods, and should a cold spell ever follow heavy rainfall you get the feeling it could draw in something really special.

Gadwall record shot ...

Monday 9 November 2020

Jekyll and Hyde

It’s been a contrasting start to November here in south-west Surrey. Lockdown is upon us again, although the new guidelines suggest birding alone or with one person close to home is prohibited, which is some respite. Sessions in the field have tended to be either dull or frustrating, or packed full of action and good birds. Shackleford has come good yet again; on the other hand Thursley has been besieged by visitors since the Little Bunting reappeared and I’ve been put off going as a result. There's been much to report either way.

The continuing Little Bunting at Thursley.

Sunday 1st

A Raven was flying beside the A286 just south of Brook at lunchtime.

Monday 2nd

News came out long after dark that the Scaup had been reported again at Frensham early on Sunday morning … so I was there once more at dawn for what would be dip number three. Despite clearly larger number of Aythyas, which included 84 Tufted Duck (including a single flock of 71), a drake Pochard and a Pochard x Tufted hybrid, there was no sign of the hoped for Scaup. In all, a particularly frustrating few days chasing this bird around on the back of late news. Other bits included Firecrest and Little Egret.

Pochard x Tufted Duck and Pochard at Frensham.

With the rest of the day off and lockdown incoming, I kept things local and checked out a few spots close to home. In general, things were steady in the breezy conditions. Two Chiffchaffs and a Little Egret were at Unstead SF, before rather quiet walks around Thundry Meadows and Cutt Mill Ponds – a few Lesser Redpolls and, at the latter site, Kingfisher and two Gadwall were the best. Even the Love Shack couldn’t muster up much; a Blackcap was the most noteworthy bird.

Tuesday 3rd

No birding.

Wednesday 4th

A fantastic, if a bit chilly, morning out on Thursley with 52 species noted. The clear highlight was a spectacular southward movement of Woodpigeons with no fewer than 12,650 tallied up. Conditions were spot on for a big day for them and Thursley has a bit of form for large numbers, so I gave Shrike Hill a go and was in position before dawn. It was well worth it, with masses of flocks piling south either side of my watchpoint. It was an impossible job to keep on top of things and I suspect the estimate is many hundred fewer than what it really was … awesome stuff.

Woodpigeon action over Shrike Hill.

Prior to that, a Lapwing had flushed off Pudmore – rare here now and a site first for me. A Water Rail was heard at Pudmore too. There seemed to be a few more finches and thrushes around and two Bramblings flew over, along with the now obligatory good numbers of Crossbills and Lesser Redpolls. Little Egret, Rook, Egyptian Goose and Kingfisher were other decent birds for the Thursley day lister!

Red Kite and Lapwing at Thursley.

While walking down the very muddy main Ockley Common path I flushed two snipe; to my surprise, one each of Common and Jack. The latter rose silently from close range and dropped back down soon after, with the shorter bill and boldly striped upperparts noted. The Common flew around hysterically for several minutes before landing again. The Jack was another Thursley first for me and only my second locally this year.

A little further on I bumped into a Reed Bunting flock that happened to hold the Little Bunting. Having found it on 19 October, it was assumed to have been a brief one-day only visitor, until it was photographed on 30 October at Pudmore. It stayed put over the weekend for many to enjoy, although it has proven rather elusive and there was no sign on Tuesday. So, somewhat of a surprise to locate it in a completely different spot and it showed really well in the early morning sun. There has to be a decent chance this bird will winter …

More shots of the Little Bunting.

Thursday 5th

A few Redwings were heard from the kitchen window in thick fog throughout the morning.

Friday 6th

A look at Frensham after the fog cleared was quiet, with two Pochard and a Little Egret of note. I then met up with Sam at Thursley where we eagerly anticipated filling our boots with Little Bunting and Great Grey Shrike, and perhaps the Short-eared Owl which was reported on the afternoon of 4th while I was stranded at home. As it happened, we had a very quiet five-and-a-half-mile walk; the place was rammed with birders, photographers and many other people. Eight Crossbills, a Water Rail and large numbers of roosting Fieldfares were the best.

Saturday 7th

With the wind in the east there was more fog, but it cleared fairly swiftly. These conditions at this time of year point towards checking waterbodies and this was my main morning focus, but both Tuesley Farm and Frensham were quiet. Five Pochard and four Crossbills were at the latter site. On the drive to Shackleford, a Kingfisher was seen over the River Wey near Tilford.

Pochard at Frensham Great Pond.

The sun was creeping out by the time I reached Shackleford. Since the Little Bunting has been showing fairly consistently Thursley has been very busy, just as I was getting into a nice flow of regular visits to the site. By comparison, good old Shackleford was bliss and in two hours I saw not one person! It was an excellent birding session too …

There were good numbers of finches, thrushes, Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Reed Buntings to sift through, but the first bird of note was a typically hysterical Golden Plover, shrieking as it bombed south-east over the alfalfa. Always good locally and three of my five records during the last two years have been here. Bizarrely, a wader double was had when a Snipe flew up from the alfalfa, landed in the set aside at the north end, then flew back over my head and re-landed in the alfalfa … weird, but in fact my second Snipe here.

Shackleford wader action.

An adult Peregrine watched on from the pylons on the west side while other notable birds were clocked up, including Chiffchaff, Yellowhammer, two Ravens and five Ring-necked Parakeets. Nearly back at the car, I noticed a small group of gamebirds take off from near the track and land a short distance away in the alfalfa. Brief views indicated they were partridges, but they seemed a bit dump for Red-legged, and sure enough – to my great surprise – I heard the wheezy call of Grey Partridge!

Peregrine, Meadow Pipit and Raven from the Love Shack.

It took a while before I picked out a partridge head sticking out from the cover, and the ID was confirmed. The light wasn’t ideal and it took a good half hour before I could get in a good position to view them. In total there were seven, including at least four males and three females. They were very skittish and elusive, feeding quietly at the north end as I watched on.

Where they’ve come from I don’t know. I’ve spoken to the farmer before about this species – they are on his ‘wish list’ for the site and had plans to release some in a few years once more nesting habitat was in place. I assumed he’d put them down, so was surprised to find out later on that he hadn’t. Presumably a release from somewhere else, given the nearest wild population is about 35 miles away, which ties in with the conclusion I came to in a paper for the 2016 Surrey Bird Report (pp 181-186). I'll take them as a south-west Surrey year tick though ...

Unexpected Grey Partridges at Shackleford.

There was no sign later on when a few people twitched them, nor the following morning, adding to the bizarre nature of the record. Later in the afternoon, I did Chiddingfold Forest in an attempt to locate a big redpoll flock. On the way, 10 Gadwall were counted at Snowdenham Mill Pond. The forest was quiet – a few small groups of Lesser Redpolls and that was about it. 

At dusk I stopped at Painshill Farm near Dunsfold, hoping for owls. It delivered, with one Little Owl heard calling to the south-west – only the third site I’ve recorded the species this year. Other birds of note here included three Yellowhammers, plenty of Red-legged Partridges, a Sparrowhawk and 85 Fieldfares.

Sunday 9th

Another foggy start and another blank at local waterbodies, namely Tuesley and Cutt Mill, though the latter hosted two Gadwall, a Kingfisher and a flyover Raven. Shackleford was next up and, yet again – and indeed as it has done so often this year – delivered. Upon arrival on the track a small gull flock was noted in the alfalfa and a quick scan revealed a large gull with the perfect mantle shade for Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull disappears into the fog ...

Its legs were hidden by the alfalfa, the fog was thick and it soon flew south … not ideal but there wasn’t much else it could be, especially given the clean head it had. The birds has landed on the polo pitch at Home Farm so I planned to check once I’d completed my circuit of the main fields. Said fields didn’t have as much as yesterday but still held a Lapwing, 10 Red Kites and an apparent arrival of thrushes (mainly Fieldfares).

Seven Red Kites (and a Buzzard), Lapwing and winter thrushes at Shackleford.

Upon checking the polo pitch the Yellow-legged Gull was easy to pick out, roosting with a group of Herring Gulls. It eventually stood up and showed its yellow legs before flying to the back of the field to feed. Always a quality bird locally – only my fifth ever – but the third this year. A first-winter Lesser Black-backed was also about.

Yellow-legged Gull action.

Monday 10th

Another murky start warranted another check of Frensham, though not before a pre-dawn trip to Shackleford for owls and partridges was undertaken. It delivered the latter – at least five Grey Partridges still present in the alfalfa, including three ‘singing’ males. I wonder how long they might stick? Six Lapwings were also present.

Both ponds at Frensham were quiet with the desired seaduck, grebe, Bearded Tit or Bittern lacking. A large film set was being erected at the Little Pond, which held three each of Water Rail and Crossbill. A trio of drake Pochard were best at the Great Pond, along with another Crossbill, Firecrest and an unusual, tight flock of five Little Grebes – a species I don’t see here regularly.