Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Friday, 31 December 2021

Stoppage time Smew (and other late goodies)

2021 is done. Despite a rather disappointing 12 months of local birding a couple of surprise finds in the second half of December – both of Russian origin – have provided an uplifting finale to the year, as has a change of avian scenery following a few days in Sussex and a last-gasp Surrey twitch. 2022 begins tomorrow, and so a new birding calendar commences. Bring it on.   

A surprise Surrey Smew on the last day of 2021.

Friday 17th

Another unseasonably mild morning tempted me back to Cranleigh SF, which paid off. A similar number of Chiffchaffs were on the east side and among them was a ghostly pale individual: enough to get the tristis alarm bells going. The bird was highly mobile and never called but responded to brief playback. It was incredibly hard to keep on, let alone photograph (especially in the dull light), but lots of good features were eventually seen: a bold and extensive supercilium with tobacco-coloured ear covers, beige (Garden Warbler-esque) plumage tones, a bright alula, dark legs, silky white underparts etc.

Siberian Chiffchaff.

This is the third December in a row I've found a local Siberian Chiffchaff so I was pleased, especially after a year in which I've been below par in my finding. A brief Firecrest was noted nearby, along with a young male Sparrowhawk. This site is worth checking for sure – Surrey's first Dusky Warbler will fall one day!

Chiffchaff (collybita).

Saturday 18th

A male Kestrel was seen over Farncombe from the kitchen window mid-morning.

Sunday 19th

No birding today.

Monday 20th

Measly wildfowl numbers at Frensham Great Pond first thing included five Pochard and 29 Tufted Duck. A Chiffchaff was heard on the south side, a Water Rail squealed from the south-eastern reedbed and two Firecrests were noted.

Tuesday 21st

I met with Dave at Enton Lakes first thing, where a few decent bits were present among the 38 species recorded. Two each of Little Egret, Kingfisher and Water Rail highlighted, with drake Pochard and Mandarin also of note. Some 50 Siskins flitted through the alders and, despite the chilly easterly, my first drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers of the season were very pleasing to hear.

I then checked Frensham Great Pond, where four drake Shoveler were new in, along with an increase in Aythya that included 17 Pochard. Two Kingfishers were seen but I once again left this site decent waterbird-less, and just as news of a Smew – my most wanted Surrey bird – broke at the London Wetland Centre. 

I had no time to get there before work beckoned but was able to quickly check the fields at Loseley on the way home. Here, some 198 geese included 137 Canadas but nothing rarer, and still no Lapwings.

Loseley geese.

Wednesday 22nd

A lovely, chilly winter morning with blue skies and a sharp frost. With the wind still in the east I did a big local waterbody sweep, but again came up short on both quality and quantity. Some 25 Shoveler at Frensham Great Pond and a Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid at Snowdenham Mill Pond highlighted. I again checked Loseley before heading home, with Greylag numbers sharply up from 52 to 92. Large numbers of Larids included some 115 Common Gulls and a female Kestrel was on roadside wires.

Common Gull.

Thursday 23rd

Four Wigeon greeted me at Frensham Great Pond first thing – only my fifth local record of the year. They were vocal but settled at the south end, where five Shoveler were also present, as well as 11 of the 21 Pochard on site. A Lesser Redpoll flew over too. Afterwards, Frensham Little Pond held three Shoveler and six Pochard. Finally, a drake Gadwall and two Teal were the best from a quick scan of Snowdenham Mill Pond.


Friday 24th

In the afternoon, on the way down to my parents' house in Felpham, two quick stops were made. The first, on the east side of Pulborough town, produced two Cattle Egrets feeding in a sheep paddock. At the second, at St Mary's Church in Burpham village, distant views of two adult Bewick's Swan were had – a real favourite of mine but one that is sadly vanishing from the British winter landscape. A female Brambling was in a small Chaffinch flock just up the lane as well.

Bewick's Swans.

Saturday 25th

During a couple of quick scans of the sea from my parents' living room there was more than usual about, probably due to the easterly wind. At least nine Red-throated Divers included a few relatively close in, while two each of Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter flew past. A handful of Gannets and Mediterranean Gulls were also about.

Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser pair.

Sunday 26th

An early afternoon wander around Burpham village produced an impressive 10 or more Chiffchaffs at the little sewage treatment works, though I couldn't pick out anything with a hint of tristis about it. A male Sparrowhawk lurked nearby, 18 Lapwings flew north and the two Bewick's Swans were in the same field as Friday.

Bewick's Swan.

On the way back, a Black Swan in a field with some 30 Mutes was a surprise while driving along Ford Road south of Arundel. A quick look at Bilsham farm reservoir produced eight Mediterranean Gulls, four Shoveler, two Teal and 18 Gadwall.

Monday 27th

It was much quieter off Felpham during a brief afternoon seawatch, with five Wigeon, one Red-throated Diver and a single Curlew all heading west the highlights.

Tuesday 28th

An afternoon of birding the Arun Valley with Sam and Matt proved enjoyable, despite the strong westerly wind and frequent rainfall. We started at Waltham Brooks, where the sewage works produced a showy Siberian Chiffchaff (present since 21st) in among five or so collybita. A female Marsh Harrier flew over the brooks too – one of four different birds seen today.

We then headed to the water meadows around Arundel and Burpham, where the Bewick's Swans seemed to have done a bunk, despite checking from both sides of the valley. We did however see six Cattle Egrets east of Mill Road, another female-type Marsh Harrier and a drake Shelduck on temporary floods near Arundel station.

Amberley Wildbrooks was up next – a site I particularly like. We scored 48 species here which wasn't too bad given the conditions. The clear highlight was a ringtail Hen Harrier that was causing mayhem among the masses of waterbirds (at least 350 Lapwing!). At one point it was mobbed by two Kestrels. Given there is only one ringtail wintering in the Arun Valley this year, it seems possible to be the bird I had over Tuesley back in md-November – see here. Other bits included male and female Marsh Harriers, thousands of dabbling ducks (including 100 or more Pintail), five Bullfinches and good numbers of winter thrushes. 

Hen Harrier.

We ended the day back at Waltham Brooks, where we staked out from Greatham Bridge. This produced a surprise Water Pipit in flight – a decent Sussex bird and local rarity. Two Peregrines and a Sparrowhawk shooting through made it seven raptor species for the day before, fittingly, a lovely winter's afternoon in the field concluded with the ringtail Hen Harrier coming into roost in the falling light.

Wednesday 29th

A mild, wet and murky morning offered little inspiration and I nearly didn't head out, but I decided to quickly check the Loseley fields before work, having not been for a week. Despite higher water levels (and thus habitat) along the river following recent rain, goose numbers were still impressive – 169 Canada, 91 Greylags and 15 Egyptian were all decent counts. 

However, to my delight, another goose species was espied on this visit: a lovely adult White-fronted Goose, in with a Greylag group. It was always distant but the smaller size, white blaze, belly barring and pink bill were seen well. This was a nice one to find having kept tabs on the goose flock here during the last couple of weeks; it also served as a welcome and uplifting end to a rather disappointing year of local birding.

White-fronted Goose.

Dave and Joan were able to connect but the bird had apparently vanished by early afternoon. A mini influx of White-fronted Geese has occurred in the South-East again this December (including two vice-county records), though on a much smaller scale than 2020. However, it's still a great rarity locally – this is only the 18th south-west Surrey record. Lovely stuff, and within 1.5 km of my front door to boot.

Thursday 30th

Perhaps unsurprisingly the White-fronted Goose was seen along the Wey water meadows near Unstead yesterday afternoon by Malcolm F, so it seemed likely it'd roost nearby. Sam and I met at Broadwater at first light but, despite an impressive 85 Greylags counted, there was no sign of the Russian visitor. Sam then worked the river and didn't locate it; nor did I at Snowdenham Mill Pond or Loseley. Perhaps a one-day wonder?

Two each of Gadwall and Teal were on the mill pond and a male Sparrowhawk showed well at Loseley, where goose numbers were well down. Nearby two Little Egrets were in their favoured field at Mellersh Farm.

Friday 31st

I was contemplating cracking open the first New Year's Eve beer when Duncan B reported a redhead Smew at Thorpe Park this afternoon. My Surrey kryptonite, and having missed two already this year, I just had enough time to head up before it got too dark and get home in time for the festivities. 

The bird was initially distant on the small fishing pit but eventually showed a bit better, and I was treated to satisfactory views as it foraged in the south-east corner, loosely associating with some Tufted Duck and keeping close to the vegetated shore. Closer views also allowed it to be sexed as a drake, with various male features detected and white feathers moulting through on the upperparts and flanks.

High ISO Smew action.

Two Kingfishers, a Chiffchaff and a Kestrel were also noted. A fine way to end the year – perhaps my favourite species of all finally on my vice-county list (number 228) ...

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Top 10 local moments of 2021

2021. It wasn't great, was it? Most patch-watchers or bird finders I know have mainly bad things to say about this past year, which was blighted by unseasonal weather, poor breeding success (see here) and a dearth of migrants during both spring and autumn. From a personal point of view, I started the year without a plan. South-west Surrey's crazy end to 2020 and various other factors (not least lockdown) had me automatically going for another local year list – although by spring I realised I didn't really want to be chasing numbers. I was jaded. It's been a gradual process, but the last few months have allowed me to revaluate what birding is all about for me.

I don't have a plan for 2022 at the moment. I'll take it as it comes, though I'm sure south-west Surrey will be the stage for the vast majority of my birding. I'm looking forward to another year of local fieldwork and, with luck, being able to properly get away for some overseas birding. I don't think I'll do a south-west Surrey year list post like I did last year, given I pretty much surrendered mid-season, though I may change my mind. For what it's worth, I'm on 153 at the time of writing [23 December] and I suspect I'll end on that. Not bad at all, but if it wasn't for the magic of 2020 (i.e. two certain bunting species) I would have only just scraped 150.

Displaying Goshawk.

What I've decided to do at the end of this year is a rundown of my favourite moments or sessions of 2021. After all, birding is about exactly that – moments, and the everlasting memories they create. Lists are great fun, but they are not what I'll remember in years gone by, nor what provide the momentary wonder that certain encounters with wildlife can. I also feel there's an added layer of thrill when these moments happen close to home and at places that mean something to you.

So, below are my top 10 local moments or sessions of 2021. Even in this rather grim year, there were those brief seconds or minutes of magic. Here's to more next year.

February 23rd

After a long, grey and locked down winter, this felt like the first time there was truly light at the end of the tunnel. With conditions teetering on early spring, a glorious day looking for Goshawks resulted in a sensational performance by a displaying pair. Watching these magnificent, elusive beasts twisting and turning in the fresh blue skies was a truly uplifting and exhilarating moment. I remember feeling completely free, as if I'd been removed from the real world for a short while. Magical stuff!

March 6th

It was cold and grey upon arrival at Tuesley – there was nothing to suggest it wasn't winter. Then, out of nowhere, that electric shock I wait for annually: a hirundine flicking through the skies. Two, in fact, both Sand Martins, providing that rush of blood the first hirundine of the year always does. Spring had begun.

March 12th

A perfect storm at Frensham Great Pond, creating an evocative spectacle. Amid sudden torrential rain a flock of 16 noisy and stunning adult Mediterranean Gulls dropped from the sky, their overland migration interrupted by the weather. Perfect timing on my part, and the conditions only added to the occasion, which you can just about picture in the recording below.

April 4th

Five hours on Thursley Common probably proved to be the most joyous field session of the year. It was warm for the first time – T-shirt weather – and early migrants headlined in glorious sunshine: Cuckoo, Redstart and Tree Pipit, with Willow Warblers and Swallows also noted. Heaps of species were in song, while Curlew and Lapwing displayed over Pudmore. The Little Bunting duo were still about and I enjoyed them all to myself, to a backdrop of birdsong and brightness. I noted no fewer than 62 species in all. A day we wait all winter for – and the reason why spring is simply the best season.

April 26th

Fast forward a few weeks and a freakishly cold April had left me a bit frustrated. I got to Tuesley expecting nothing. A Brent Goose bobbing around on the water completely lifted my spirits; I then went into hyper-excitement mode when I noted a Bar-tailed Godwit on the far shore. Dave and Eric whizzed down and were able to enjoy these local rarities, but the action didn't stop there, as Greenshank and Yellow Wagtail flew over, while Common and Green Sandpipers patrolled the shoreline. You work sites like this all year for something like a Brent or Barwit, so to get two in one morning – with such a fine supporting cast to boot – made this a very special hour or so.

June 3rd

I took a birding hiatus of sorts for a couple of weeks in May for various reasons, partly because I felt jaded after a year plus of hardcore time in the field. On 3 June I took an innocuous stroll around my old haunt at Thorncombe Street and, slowly, the joy of summer revealed itself in a peaceful and almost therapeutic session. Birds were everywhere, many singing or carrying food to hungry youngsters in the warm weather. I didn't observe much of note, but bits like Spotted Flycatcher and Cuckoo were lovely to see and hear after such a cold and wet spring. It was the first time I felt I was properly enjoying birding since that Thursley session in early April but, beyond that, it felt like common species were putting a smile on my face for the first time in even longer.

June 16th

A walk through a remote, Low Weald woodland with life abounding in the lazy midsummer sunshine. Juvenile Hawfinch and Nightingale with attendant parents were fantastic to see – indeed, recently fledged youngsters of many species were seemingly everywhere, and heaps of birds were in full song. Insects zipped about, flowers were in bloom ... The place felt so alive. Among those songsters was a purring Turtle Dove – the perfect icing on the cake. 

Hungry Hawfinch.

July 1st

I was out on Thursley early morning, blissfully alone under warm blue skies. A group of high-flying birds caught my eye over Shrike Hill – to my great surprise they were Shelduck. What an incongruous, but wonderful, sight – so out of context not just over a vast landscape of heath and woodland, but on a warm midsummer's day. They were clearly on a long journey and it made me think about the huge number of migration spectacles such as these that are missed by human eyes.

August 15th

Another example of lucky timing, with a juvenile Marsh Harrier swooping low over the track at Shackleford as soon as I arrived mid-morning. This species is always exciting to see locally and, better still, this was the first I'd encountered down low and 'in habitat'. Despite heavy-handed corvid attention it loitered for a little while before continuing south. If I'd have arrived a few minutes later I'd have never seen it.

September 14th

A confiding juvenile Little Stint made for a morning to remember at Tuesley. Not only was this bird a great local rarity – and easily my bird of the year – it also showed ridiculously well. Being all alone with this waif from the High Arctic was incredibly special. What a distance this bird had come – and to end up here, on my patch, for me to revel in. The places and birds this individual must have encountered during its short life resonated with me – it was free in a way I could only imagine. What luck that our paths crossed.  

My bird of the year.

There were of course many other great moments (and grim ones!) this year, but honorary mentions must go to the numerous balmy summer days watching raptors and woodpecker nests, which are always a privilege.

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Muddling through midwinter

Midwinter is upon us – my least favourite time of year and following an underwhelming 11 months of local birding. Patch efforts have been a little reduced during the first half of December and have rarely produced much of note. However, something I'm writing (see here) has taken me to parts of Surrey I'm not familiar with – and this has provided a refreshing element to an otherwise uninspiring period. On the subject of writing, the 2020 south-west Surrey big year article I wrote in the February edition of Birdwatch is now up on BirdGuides here.

Little Egret at Waterloo Pond.

Wednesday 1st

No observations of note today.

Thursday 2nd

It was bright and chilly at Frensham Great Pond first thing, where a skittish drake Goosander highlighted. Three Shoveler and 15 Pochard, as well as singles of Kingfisher and Firecrest, were also noted.

Kingfisher on a railing.

At lunch I joined Kit, who was seeking Surrey ticks, on a trip to Thorpe Park. A quality suite of wildfowl was on offer here including a drake Ferruginous Duck and female Scaup, both found by Josephine in recent weeks. We got good 'scope views, even though the birds were distant. Apparently the fudge is unringed, which would make it my second in the county (and only my third Scaup!).

Wretched wildfowl shots.

Other bits of note included two drake Goldeneye, a drake Goosander, 45 Pochard, some 220 Tufted Duck, 40 Wigeon and 14 Snipe.

Friday 3rd

No observations of note today.

Saturday 4th

I visited a few more waterbodies in the Blackwater Valley early on, following on from my first recce on 30 November. First up was a very quiet Mytchett Lake; Frimley Pits (the fisheries) were not heaps better afterwards, with difficult viewing, but three Shoveler, four Gadwall and a Kingfisher were of note on Hatches.

I then headed to Ash Ranges, where the flags were down and the sun was out – as well as a stiff north-westerly. The wind kept passerine activity to a premium, with three Dartford Warblers, a Stonechat and a Woodlark the best I could muster during a two-hour, 6.5 km walk. A Raven flew over as well. This vast site is impressive visually – there's absolutely no doubt many good birds are never found here and at Pirbright Ranges (which is even less accessible).

Female Stonechat.

I ended the morning at Lakeside NR, part of Ash Vale Pits, a pleasant but limited site I'd never heard of until recently. A vocal Firecrest was a bit of a surprise and a hunting Kingfisher was of note, but the most pleasing observation was a Carrion Crow carefully revamping a nest.

Saturday 5th

A cold, grey and wet morning checking out some more new Surrey sites, this time in the far east of the county – an area pretty unknown to me. First up was Hedgecourt Lake, an impressive waterbody near East Grinstead (about the furthest away part of Surrey from home) that gets decent birds despite poor coverage. In totally grim conditions the best I managed was 19 Pochard and some friendly Mute Swans.

Mute Swan and Pochard.

Nearby Wire Mill Lake was up next but it was very quiet, save a flyover Lesser Redpoll. Open farmland and a couple of sewage works between here and Oxted seemed interesting enough to tempt me back in the future in better weather. The finale 'eastern' locale was Bay Pond in Godstone, where a Little Grebe was the most notable waterbird.

On the way back, a quick look at Postford and Waterloo Ponds at Chilworth produced three Little Egrets and 23 Mandarin. In all, not a bad way to spend a dull midwinter's morning, seeing new parts of the county and birding as I went.

Little Egrets.

Monday 6th

I walked the Lammas Lands in the morning, where Snipe numbers continued to be incredibly low – nine the maximum count, though it may have been as little as five. Other bits included Little Egret, six Egyptian Geese over, 50 Siskins, 18 Meadow Pipits and two Reed Buntings.

Tuesday 7th

No observations of note today.

Wednesday 8th

I ventured to the water meadows around Unstead and Peasmarsh in the morning, in case Storm Barra had topped up the water levels (it hadn't, and it's still really dry along the Wey this winter). However, a surprise awaited me at the flood at Lower Trunley Heath Farm: five Wigeon

Drake Wigeon.

As mentioned before on this blog this species is rare and localised in south-west Surrey and is most notable in the Wey Valley, especially the further away from Guildford you get (a flock winters at Burpham Court Farm). Amazingly this was my first record along the Wey since 2003. Other bits of note included 12 Teal and a juvenile Mute Swan.

Thursday 9th

Another duo of new Surrey sites this morning: Old Woking and Wisley sewage farms. I'll always enjoy birding sewage farms (sounds grim I know!) due to cutting my ornithological teeth at Unstead in the early 2000s when I was a young boy – there's something I find personally nostalgic about the pungent smells, gentle whirrs of machinery and general quietness of them (lets be honest 'normal' folk don't hang out at sewage farms!).

Anyway, Old Woking is famous for Surrey's only Marsh Sandpiper, found by Jeremy in 1994, during perhaps the last decade in which sewage farms were superb birding sites. Nowadays most are modernised, with the sludge beds and pools drained. I nonetheless found Old Woking to be an impressively large and promising site. Three Teal, singles of Little Owl and Kestrel and two Chiffchaffs highlighted. At Ripley and Wisley sewage farms, which weren't as good, single Chiffchaffs were the best I could muster.

Friday 10th

An early check of Frensham and Cutt Mill didn't produce much, save a Goosander pair and 17 Shoveler at the latter site. On the way home, a Ring-necked Parakeet (one of three) excavating a hole and chasing off a Starling near Shackleford village was very notable – the first proper evidence of parakeet breeding I've witnessed in south-west Surrey. A female Kestrel mobbed a Buzzard nearby.

Saturday 11th

A red sky greeted me at a frosty Thursley Common first thing – my first proper visit to the site in over a month. Some 38 species were noted during a 7 km stroll, the best of which was a Lapwing on Pudmore. Two Water Rails and a Snipe were also present there, while Forked Pond produced a Kingfisher and a flock of 70 or more Siskins. Other bits included a female Kestrel, an unseasonal Skylark and a Mistle Thrush, but passerine numbers on the common – especially finches and pipits – were really quite low.

Red sky at Thursley.

Sunday 12th

I haven't used my WWT membership enough this year so, as I was in London in the afternoon, I headed to the wetland centre at Barnes in the morning. My first visit since I dipped a Little Bittern in June 2016 saw me notch up 56 species, the best of which was a first-winter Caspian Gull that dropped into Main Lake. It was a bit of a mucky 'German-type' (I think it might have been a bird recently at Beddington) but fine for cachinnans and was seen better afterwards by Oscar D who rated it.

Other highlights included a Bittern picked out from a reedbed with the thermal imager (I'm not sure I'd have located it otherwise), a Water Pipit on Grazing Marsh, a female Goldeneye and a Shelduck pair. Adult and first-winter Great Black-backed Gulls, Water Rail and four Cetti's Warblers were also of note, as was a surprise male Blackcap outside the main entrance.

Goldeneye, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Shelduck, Lapwings and Bittern.

Monday 13th

On Saturday Matt E found a Little Bunting at Iping Common near Midhurst – shades of the Thursley occurrences last year. There was no news on Sunday, but I figured it was probably still about so headed down first thing. It was grey and drizzly, but my quarry gave itself up quickly – and how nice it was to spend some time with a species now somewhat special to me, and in a location and habitat so similar to Thursley.

I haven't visited Iping for many years and, despite the weather, the rest of the walk was good fun. A flyover Hawfinch was a treat, while decent numbers of Brambling and Dartford Warbler were seen along with two each of Marsh Tit and Yellowhammer.

Tuesday 14th

No birding today.

Wednesday 15th

A very mild morning – 11°C, seven species in song and winter birds at a premium – for a quiet couple of hours of ringing at Shackleford with Steve. Lots of gulls, including 170 or more Herrings, streamed in from the north to feed in the alfalfa, where a solitary Lapwing was present. A flock of 30 Skylarks and a Stonechat pair were also noted, while four Dunnocks made it into the nets.

On the way home I checked the Stakescorner Road fields at Loseley hoping for Lapwing. There were none, though a calling Little Owl was a relative surprise and decent goose numbers included 86 Greylags. Perhaps there are no wintering Lapwings in the area this winter – grim times indeed.

Thursday 16th

Another mild morning, so I checked out some new sewage farms. While scanning OS maps down the years Cranleigh SF has often caught my attention – it was the best one I visited today and, while access was a bit tricky, it showed potential. An impressive 60 or more Pied Wagtails were on the beds (three Greys also), but better still was at least three Chiffchaffs along the east side. A small flock of Lesser Redpolls, four Bullfinches and Marsh Tit were also of note. 

On the way back I passed Dunsfold Aerodrome, which is the third regular site for wintering Lapwings in south-west Surrey. Nine were seen in their usual field, meaning visits during the last two days to each of the three locales (Shackleford, Loseley and here) produced a grand total of 10 birds … 

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

The struggle of looking for waterbirds in south-west Surrey

November's end has been cold as prolonged northerlies – including Storm Arwen – rained down on Surrey. Thus, it's been a period to work waterbodies; late autumn often delivers unusual wildfowl, grebes or divers inland in the South-East. This birding forecast came through, not least via Ferruginous Duck at Thorpe Park, Slavonian Grebe and Long-tailed Duck at Staines and Little Auk in Oxfordshire. But the waterbird forcefield that is south-west Surrey failed to produce, despite my best efforts. That's how it is around here, though – and why local rarity context is a great thing (and why it feels so good when you do find something decent!).


Saturday 20th

I walked the Lammas Lands first thing, managing a paltry six Snipe. Various factors – not least the dry and mild autumn – seem to have reduced numbers here this winter (I had 18 on 22 November last year). However, this was more than made up for with a first-winter Dartford Warbler on Catteshall Meadow – only the third Lammas Lands record. All have been in the last 11 months, prompting me to wonder if this species in fact winters here with some regularity ... The nearest breeding locales are some 6.5 km away so, whatever the case, they are decent records for the site.

Dartford Warbler and a map showing the nearest breeding sites of
the species (pink Xs) to the Lammas Lands (central white dot).

Other bits included two Stonechats, three Fieldfares and four Reed Buntings. Later in the morning I walked Busbridge Lakes for the first time in six years. Wood Lake was very quiet, save two Kingfishers at the west end, though a Brambling in an area of beech trees was good value and a Lesser Redpoll flew over.

Sunday 21st

A pleasant session at Shackleford was done under blue skies and a fresh northerly breeze, with the most notable of 43 species recorded a late Chiffchaff calling in a strip of set aside. Five Bullfinches, a Brambling and two Lesser Redpolls were also seen.

Monday 22nd

Three each of Shoveler and Gadwall were notable at a frosty Frensham Great Pond first thing. I've only seen the latter species twice here this year, which is remarkable given I visit the site roughly once a week. Pochard numbers were down, with only eight tallied, while the Firecrest was still near the outlet pond and two Kingfishers were seen.

Tuesday 23rd

There was a bit of wildfowl turnover at Frensham Great Pond, with a female Goosander and an increase of Pochard up to 13, but no Shoveler or Gadwall were present. A Water Rail called from the eastern reedbed and two Kingfishers flew over.

Drake Pochard.

I walked to Broadwater and back during my lunch break, with a Wigeon out in the middle of the lake a lovely surprise. This scarcest of south-west Surrey ducks is an unpredictable bird locally, this being only my third record all year. An adult and first-winter Great Crested Grebe were also present.

Wednesday 24th

Heavy mist hanged in the air as I did a sweep of local waterbodies in the morning. First up was Snowdenham Mill Pond, which was surprisingly quiet – seven Teal (including some displaying drakes) were my first of the season here, but the only other wildfowl of note was four Mandarin

Tuesley was dead, and Enton Lakes produced a single Kingfisher. At Frensham, Pochard were up to 20 but it was otherwise quiet. An underwhelming morning concluded at Broadwater, where a new Great Crested Grebe (or one that evaded me yesterday) bumped the count up to three.

Thursday 25th

Broadwater at first light produced a flyover Kingfisher and some 148 roosting Canada Geese. I then headed to Frensham Great Pond once more, where Pochard had again increased, this time to 24. An impressive flock of at least 130 Siskins were in alders between the hotel and sailing club, three Firecrests were near the outlet stream and a Kingfisher was at the south end.

Later in the morning I walked Unstead Water Meadows, which are very dry for this time of year. As a result there wasn't much about, though three Water Rails were back in their usual Alder carr winter haunt near Bunkers Hill Farm – my first along the Wey since 14 March. A third Kingfisher of the day was also noted heading downriver.

Dave and I undertook a dusk stakeout at Thursley, which was cold and quiet with only 20 species seen. This did include some relative quality, though, such as a Little Egret heading south-west (presumably to roost at Frensham), two Snipe and Woodcock that came out from Will Reeds to feed on South Bog when it was dark.

Friday 26th

The pack had shuffled a little at Frensham Great Pond, where seven Shoveler were dotted about, as well as another increase of Pochard up to 26. Kingfisher and Firecrest put in their obligatory appearances too. 

Frensham quackers.

Shoveler had perhaps been on the move overnight, with 12 on the house pond at Cutt Mill afterwards. Some 21 Mandarin were also seen, as well as two Kingfishers, though no Goosander were around. My final destination of Tuesley was quiet, though more than 100 gulls included some 70 Common and two Lesser Black-backed.

Saturday 27th

Today a decent waterbird finally made it to south-west Surrey, at Frensham, typically enough on the first day in six I didn't visit the site; a Goldeneye found by Shaun. My personal efforts weren't much to shout about, in freezing and windy conditions as Storm Arwen struck. Snowdenham Mill Pond had four each of Gadwall and Mandarin, as well as my first Kestrel here for more than two and a half years. 


The highlight of the morning came inadvertently while driving through Shackleford – a Little Grebe on the small farm pond by the road. This was the first I've seen on this tiny waterbody; a micro-mega and the type of thing to put a smile on the face of any local patchwatcher. I can't recall seeing one that's retained so much summer plumage at this time of year, either – a nice reminder of warmer times as horizontal sleet fell!

Little Grebe.

Sunday 28th

No observations of note today.

Monday 29th

Another bitterly cold morning, this time with a moderate covering of snow on the ground. Four Mute Swans at Tuesley were presumably displaced from an ice-bound locale overnight, while Frensham Great Pond produced no fewer than 32 Shoveler – my highest-ever local count of this species, which was something to take away from this spell of weather if nothing else. The partially resident drake Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid was at the north end (my first sighting in over a year) and some 17 Pochard were off the hotel. A female Kestrel flew over the A3 near Milford on the way home.

Tuesday 30th

I gave Frensham yet another go this morning, which was much milder than of late. There had been a clear out of ducks: zero Shoveler and Tufted Duck numbers notably down. Two Little Grebes were of note, as was a flyover Crossbill – this species has really dropped off since early summer, and this record was my first locally since 15 October and fourth since mid-June. A Firecrest was again by the outlet stream.

For something a bit different afterwards, I checked Tongham GP and Quay Lake (one of the Frimley pits). The former site had decent numbers of Wigeon and Gadwall, along with nearly 100 Coot. It's not easy to view, but must get good birds. I don't know anyone who properly watches it. Adjacent Aldershot Park, just over the Hampshire border, held a surprise Ring-necked Parakeet and a flyover Raven. Quay Lake was much quieter with nothing of note seen, despite being about twice the size.