Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Thursday, 17 December 2020

Dreaming of a bright tristis

After a lull, a busy period has followed – a theme that seems to have repeated itself several times this year. So, after my last post mentioned quiet times and feet being taken off the gas, the last week or so has been far more entertaining with plenty to see in the local area. The first 'birdy' winter for a while seems to be upon us and that can only be a good thing as we enter the depths of this particular season.

An eye-catching Siberian Chiffchaff at Unstead SF.

Friday 11th

Dull and grey but much milder than of late, and a few species including Great Tit, Song Thrush and Collared Dove were in fine voice as I met Sam at the Lammas Lands for a brief pre-work walk. The highlight was an impressive three Jack Snipe, a new high count for the season. This species obviously winters here – not too surprising given the numbers of Common Snipe – but it’s nice to have such a reliable site for this tricky species right on my doorstep.

Jack Snipe action ...

In total we managed at least 16 Common Snipe, too, which wasn’t a bad count at all, especially given we didn't walk the full area. Other bits included two Reed Buntings, a small flock of Siskins and flyover Grey Wagtail and Egyptian Geese.

... and some Common Snipe, including a 'wisp' of three.

Saturday 12th

It was gloomy, drizzly and mild when I met Sam at Thursley a little before dawn. He needed the Great Grey Shrike (which had returned in recent days) for his local year list and it would make a nice, round 115 for my Thursley year list, so we worked the south and east part of the common with a plan to avoid the continuing bunting bonanza. One of the first birds we clocked was a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker as it flew over the bottom of South Bog. It landed in a pine by Truxford but wasn’t seen again. Presumably it was the wintering male that’s been on site since September … 

Shortly after, news broke of two White-fronted Geese on Pudmore. We sprinted there, but there was no sign, and it later transpired it was late news from a visiting birder and the geese had flown. Only the 16th south-west Surrey record, a would-be local year tick and a bit of a pain to miss. The LSW meant we weren’t too frustrated, though, and it wasn’t long until Sam located the Great Grey Shrike in the north-east corner of Ockley. Since it reappeared last week it’s clearly been very mobile and it didn’t hang around, flying over Merlin Mound and sitting atop a pine before bombing off again. There wasn’t much else to report save a handful of Crossbills and Lesser Redpolls and a singing Woodlark

Distant Great Grey Shrike at Thursley.

Afterwards, Cutt Mill yet again had no Goosander. Where are they this winter? It’s a bit of a mystery. Two Gadwall, a Kingfisher and the Mute Swan were present on the house pond. Promising goose fields held no white-fronts, and neither did the river meadows by Unstead, but the Shelduck was still at Snowdenham Mill Pond along with seven Gadwall and a Little Grebe.

Sunday 13th

Gambling on the white-fronts roosting at Pudmore again seemed a long shot and, indeed, despite being there long before dawn there was no sign – just the usual Canadas and Greylags. I made a swift exit from the wet and gloomy common, though picked up a handful of Crossbills and a Bullfinch before departing. I stopped by Tice’s Meadow next to connect with the long-staying Brent Goose. Typically, it wasn’t there, rounding off an increasingly soggy and goose-less morning. I did count 184 Coot, but wildfowl numbers were pretty poor despite seven duck species being present. Some 35 Lapwings were also about.

Cormorant at Tice's.

I then walked Cutt Mill, trying to solve the missing Goosander riddle. I figured the private ponds north of the two usual ones may hold them, but they didn’t. However, at least four Kingfishers were zipping about noisily – my highest ever single site count of the species in Surrey. The house pond was my final check and to my surprise seven Goosander were there. Five drakes included one still retaining patches of eclipse plumage. Hopefully they stick around now. In the afternoon, an impressive 18 Egyptian Geese were at Squire’s Garden Centre in Milford.

Goosander at Cutt Mill.

Monday 14th

The first of three days leave but instead of birding Kuwait I was birding Surrey. I decided to walk some areas of farmland in the Low Weald around Hambledon and Dunsfold in search of finches or buntings. Sadly, there was a depressing lack of seed eaters, with a small flock of Linnets at Court Farm and two Yellowhammers at Painshill Farm the best. Sometimes these spots have winter cover crops and stubble but not this year …

Court Farm was a bit lively, though, and plenty of birds were enjoying the thermals along the Greensand Ridge, including a Peregrine (always decent out in the sticks), two Ravens, three Sparrowhawks and a few Red Kites and Buzzards. A couple of Red-legged Patridge coveys were at Painshill. I checked Snowdenham Mill Pond on the way back and the Shelduck and three Gadwall were present.

Peregrine at Hambledon.

I couldn’t resist the lure of the coast and decided to visit Pagham later on. I met David at Sidlesham, where a Richard’s Pipit had been present for a few days at Marsh Farm. After a patient stakeout by David, his new dog Beni and I, we eventually located the bird in the south-east corner of its favoured field. Distant but decent ‘scope views were had as this big fella pottered about, often in the company of a Stonechat pair.

Richard's Pipit in a nondescript Sussex field. What odds on one currently in a similar Surrey locale?

A check of the adjacent milking parlour produced no fewer than 30 Cattle Egrets – my biggest count in the UK – and a Glossy Ibis that has been hanging around the area recently. As well as these Mediterranean offerings, a pleasing number of Yellowhammers were present around the fields, a Chiffchaff worked along a hedgerow and some 109 Black-tailed Godwits, 12 Golden Plovers and three Curlews were among the waders noted.

Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis and Black-tailed Godwit action.

Tuesday 15th

A lovely, sunny day with a notable westerly not ruining things. I didn’t get in the field until midday – I had a quiet walk along the river to Unstead SF, where it was clear plenty of insect eaters were enjoying the conditions by the works. In total I had at least five Chiffchaffs but this could easily have been double that – the birds were really mobile. Given the winter of sibes we’re experiencing in southern England I wasn’t too surprised – though I was very pleased nonetheless – to pick out a bright Siberian Chiffchaff.

Despite not calling in the 45 minutes or so I was watching it this bird ticked all the boxes: very dark bare parts, a bold supercilium, beige tones to the plumage lacking any olive, a bright alula and bright white underparts. It really stood out and wasn’t dissimilar to the one I had at the site last winter. It frantically worked around, picking at insects, though did sit still for a preen at one point. What a cracker.

Some more shots of the tristis.

Other Unstead bits included the persisting Cetti’s Warbler, a Water Rail, three Little Egrets and a Reed Bunting. This winter seems the best yet for Surrey's first Dusky Warbler and why not here? Afterwards, a quick check of Snowdenham Mill Pond produced Shelduck and five Gadwall, while a Firecrest and Marsh Tit were of note in the south section of Thorncombe Street (Great Brook / Scotsland Brook).

I concluded my afternoon at Painshill Farm where I was eventually rewarded with a Barn Owl. This species occurs at a very low density in south-west Surrey and is most difficult to connect with, this being only my fourth sighting of the year. However, they do breed nearby and the landowner has reported roosting birds, so perhaps they are regular at dusk as this one was, flying over Dunsfold Road. A Tawny Owl, one Yellowhammer and plenty of Red-legged Partridges were also noted.

Wednesday 16th

Only time for a quick check of the goose roost at Thursley this morning but it paid off big time. Dave reckoned he had two White-fronted candidates the previous morning and our early stakeout delivered: a little after 07:30, two White-fronted Geese took off with a flock of Canadas and departed due north. We’ve had to wait patiently for our slice of the influx so it felt sweet to finally score what is a monster bird locally – only 15 previous south-west Surrey records (the last in 2015) and the sixth for Thursley (the last one coming in 2001). It also pushed me to 159 for my local year list …

We made a fairly swift departure as people began arriving for the buntings but still managed to note a Snipe, Dartford Warbler, Lesser Redpoll and a couple of Crossbills. Best of all came when driving through Thursley village – a group of House Sparrows calling from gardens along Dyehouse Road, just inside the Thursley Common recording area, and taking me to 117 for the year!

Thursday 17th

With the forecast of blue skies, a plan was hatched to meet Dave and Sam at Thursley for an attempt to get views of the white-fronts on the deck, following flight-only views yesterday. We met long before dawn and were treated to several nocturnal goodies as a result: at least three Snipe were flying around – including a bird which briefly drummed! – along with two vocal Green Sandpipers and a Water Rail. Despite limited viewing at Pudmore at the moment, it didn’t take long to pick out our quarry in the half-light …

Not what you'd expect to see amid the Canadas on Pudmore.

Both White-fronted Geese had again roosted, as they probably have since Saturday, and they bobbed around on the main pool with their new Canadian friends. Both were clearly juveniles, with small white ‘blazes’ beginning to form. They obviously got separated from their family somewhere along the line but have apparently settled in with the rowdy Thursley gaggle. Perhaps they’ll roost here a while? It seems likely these two are the same that have been hanging out at Tundry Pond near Fleet.

Grainy white-front action.

They departed at 08:00, meaning grainy shots had to suffice. We then decided to visit the bunting spot, which we’ve all avoided since the Rustic arrived. Here we had views of the Little Bunting, now approaching its third month of residence, but it seems the Rustic has abandoned this spot and may prove a slippery customer in the coming months. The rest of our walk produced two Ravens, 12 Crossbills and seven Woodlarks, a couple of which were singing. In all we managed 43 species – a fine total for a couple of winter hours on a common.

The Thursley pusilla.

At dusk, a short walk around the north fields at Shackleford delivered at least seven Grey Partridges (including a covey of five), a Kestrel, two Red-legged Partridges, a handful of Skylarks and 121 Fieldfares into roost.

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