Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Sunday, 31 January 2021


I'm bored. Lockdown and winter both seem to be dragging on at the moment. The former isn't great and I've never liked the latter. I normally fill January with a sunny trip somewhere  recent examples include Cyprus, Florida and Israel. Right now, going to Sussex would feel like the adventure of a lifetime. For the first time in a long time, local birding isn't inspiring me particularly. This is partly the annual January blues, but also what can only be described as 'local birding fatigue', especially after such an intense 2020. Thankfully, though, the days are already getting longer and the good birding times will soon be back.

A showy Robin at Enton.

Tuesday 19th

A Sparrowhawk was seen from the kitchen window late morning.

Wednesday 20th

A Robin singing bravely during Storm Christoph was the best I could muster from home.

Thursday 21st

A bright morning but with a breezy south-westerly. I suspected the Wey had flooded so headed over and walked Unstead Water Meadows, where indeed vast swathes of the site were submerged. Some 200 geese were mainly Canadas, but 70 Greylags and two Egyptians were present too. There was nothing rarer among them, though a drake Gadwall was a good record – this is always the most likely duck to pitch up along the river during floods. For some reason the water meadows don’t do well for ducks, even when the site looks like Pulborough Brooks as it did today. I’m not sure why this is. 

Other bits included five Little Egrets, a big female Sparrowhawk, a Kestrel, eight Siskins and a Kingfisher. Later on, the Blackcap piped up again in the garden, along with two Coal Tits.

Garden Coal Tit.

Friday 22nd

A glorious, cold and bright winter’s morning and a fine one to be on Thursley Common. It was nice to have some time alone with the buntings: all three were performing at ‘Bunting Bushes’, including the vocal Rustic Bunting which allowed for some sound recordings. My main attention was on the Little Bunting I found back in October, and I spent most of my time observing this rather shy bird. The other Little Bunting does seem brighter and more boldly marked and I wonder if they are male and female. They seem fairly tight with one another and, interestingly, I had them together in flight over the tumulus later on, away from the usual spot …

 Because you haven't seen enough photos of the Thursley buntings already ...

Other bits noted included three Ravens (including a tumbling duo), at least 15 Crossbills, five or more Lesser Redpolls and a couple of high-flying Herring Gulls and Cormorants. Two Kingfishers and a mewing Buzzard were at an otherwise quiet Forked Pond. For a cold midwinter’s day, decent numbers of Woodlarks were noted and included at least three singers. A couple of Skylarks overhead were probably indicative of the cold weather. A new scrape that’s been dug out at Francis Copse may be productive come spring.

Crossbills and Raven at Thursley.

Saturday 23rd

There was a moderate frost this morning but blue skies slowly broke through, and it ended up being a fairly pleasant walk around Shackleford. To my surprise, some of the first birds seen were the Grey Partridges – all eight of them were sat distantly at the north end of the northern fields. Here and the alfalfa held the usual fare, including two raucous Ring-necked Parakeets flying around, and again it was the cover crops to the west that produced most of the action. A male Sparrowhawk ghosting through allowed me to count 70 Chaffinches in the big flock, along with four Bullfinches and two Yellowhammers. Some 10 Teal were on the reedy pond and an overhead Grey Heron was my first here this year.

Sunday 24th

The forecasted snow hadn’t materialised between sunrise and the time I arrived at Shackleford some 45 minutes later. However, as soon as I started walking the fields it began to fall, slowly at first, but it soon turned into quite heavy stuff. This transformed the area into a veritable winter wonderland.

Snowy Shackleford ...

The site is the best in south-west Surrey for Golden Plover and, given the inclement weather this species is associated with locally, it was perhaps no surprise when one whistled its discontent overhead as it moved north-east just ahead of the heavy snowfall. During the course of the walk, some 13 Lapwings moved in the same direction too. Otherwise it was business as usual, with another Stonechat pair on the Chalk Lane field (as well as the regular Lone Barn track duo), a female Kestrel and 70 or more Fieldfares.

... and a snowy Fieldfare.

At home, I kept an eye on the window during the day. Four species of gull included five Lesser Black-backed, all heading north-west. I also scored Peregrine and Sparrowhawk but best of all was two high-flying Snipe heading south down the river. Sam had reported birds commuting between the water meadows due to the snow so presumably this is what these two were doing.

Monday 25th

It was freezing cold at Shackleford at first light as large volumes of snow and ice remained – I couldn’t feel my toes by the end of the walk. Hoped for cold weather movement failed to materialise though there was a clear increase in gulls, including eight Lesser Black-backed and, best of all, two distant Great Black-backed that headed high west following the High Weald Ridge. A very good bird locally, it generally takes hard weather or prolonged watching during early spring passage to connect (see here).

Also, some 100 hardy Skylarks were in the alfalfa, a Siskin and Kestrel flew over and a male Sparrowhawk shot through. Afterwards, Enton Ponds were largely frozen, and the highlight was five incredibly tame Robins – presumably used to generous anglers – performing well in the winter sunshine.

More of the confiding Robin.

Tuesday 26th

A flock of 30 Lapwings were on the Stakescorner Road fields at Loseley during a short bike ride in the morning. It’s been a poor winter for the species locally, with this my first double-figure count on the deck since January 2020. They were also my first at Loseley since November 2019. A male Sparrowhawk was perched in a nearby tree.

Wednesday 27th

Two male Sparrowhawks flew over the garden together at midday.

Thursday 28th

It was much milder than late (enough to tempt the garden Blackcap into song) with a strong south-westerly breeze. During a bike ride break, a quick scan of Flooded Field at Unstead SF produced four Little Egrets, including one bird that was exhibiting territorial or display behaviour – a weird spate of bowing, which I’ve not seen before locally. Singles of Red Kite and Sparrowhawk flew over, the latter of which put up a flock of 30 or more Pied Wagtails, and a Treecreeper sang nearby. 

Friday 28th

At dusk, a Woodcock flew from the alfalfa at Lydling Farm.

Saturday 30th

I walked along the River Wey towpath from home to Unstead late morning, as a breezy north-easterly blew and the morning's heavy rainfall slowly eased off. The river meadows between Catteshall and Peasmarsh were heavily flooded and so plenty of birds were in. The best of these was two Shoveler – adult and second-year drakes – which is a very good bird here. Two Mute Swans, a species only usually recorded on the river here, were enjoying the floods too, along with five Little Egrets and triple-figure counts of gulls and geese. Two Bullfinches and a Chiffchaff were present along the towpath.

Adult drake Shoveler enjoying the floods along the Wey.

The rain eventually ceased at around 11 am and I continued on to Loseley and then Compton, where I spent a bit of the time with the big large gull flock at Sandy Farm. I know I often bang on about how uncommon large gulls are in south-west Surrey, but it really is true, so a count of 145 Herrings was really notable. Try as I might, though, there was nothing scarcer, aside four Lesser Black-backed. Some 12 Skylarks included two singers and a flock of nine in flight, and a Firecrest was in the holly stand by Watts Gallery. On the way home, a Lapwing was espied along Stakescorner Road.

Herring Gulls at Compton. A Casp is one of my most wanted local finds.

Sunday 31st

A much brighter morning, though it was cold and there was a light frost. Again I walked along the River Wey between Peasmarsh and Westbrook. Flood levels were down a bit but there was a decent selection of birds (as much as can be expected within 1 km of home, at least) at Unstead Water Meadows: three each of Mandarin, Shoveler and Gadwall, a couple of Little Egrets and some 35 Pied Wagtails on a temporary pool. A Fieldfare, uncommon here, was perched beside the towpath and a Reed Bunting sang from the Tannachie reedbed. A mighty flock of Siskins was in the alder copse and adjacent gardens near the outfall stream, with many dropping onto the path to drink from the puddles and take grit. I estimated 250 birds but there may have been well over 300.


Continuing on to the Lammas Lands, I added Stonechat, Feral Pigeon, Snipe, House Sparrow and Kestrel to the morning list, making it 48 species in total along the river. The clear highlight, however, was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, picked up in flight and seen perched briefly before melting away, like they do. I couldn’t relocate it despite a decent search and a Song Thrush teased me by mimicking its call (it also performed Green Sandpiper and Marsh Tit!).

Monday, 18 January 2021

Slow and steady

Unsurprisingly, birding has been rather steady since my last post, with any outings limited to within the lockdown rules. Keeping super local isn't proving quite as much fun as it did last spring, but there's still been plenty to see and – like during the first lockdown – I've been reminded of how lucky I am to have such a selection of decent birding sites so close to home.

This male Blackcap has kept me entertained from my kitchen window during lockdown.

Saturday 9th

I got to Thursley a little later than expected and made my way down to the south end. It was murky and cold so few birds were making themselves known, though one of the first I saw was the Great Grey Shrike. Typically, it was a distant blob, sat upon a small tree atop Shrike Hill. I got a bit closer, but it was still far away when it flew down in a northward direction, not to be seen again. Having disappeared at the end of December, it seems this bird is back again now ...

Great Grey Shrike turning its back on me.

A long pedal and pace around the rest of the common produced little: singles of Crossbill, Bullfinch and Sparrowhawk, along with a few Lesser Redpolls and the pleasure of a chat with Doug and Penny B. I avoided the bunting area. Forked Pond held a couple of Kingfishers but no Goosander. While returning home I passed through Rodborough Common, but it was quiet here, save a couple of Ravens and Treecreepers and singles of Bullfinch and Lesser Redpoll.

Treecreeper at Rodborough Common.

Sunday 10th

A walk from home late afternoon passed through a busy Broadwater Lake, where a Kingfisher flew over and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed. I headed on to Unstead Water Meadows with dusk fast approaching. A steady stream of hundreds of Jackdaws were heading north to their Unstead SF roost, while up to 60 Meadows Pipits dropped into the rough meadow to bed down.

With the light fading, two Little Egrets flew north, an Egyptian Goose pair whizzed south, a couple of Water Rails called from the ditches along the Bunkers Hill Farm track and a Tawny Owl male hooted to the east. A single Snipe bombed over before the star of the show appeared, a Woodcock, which flew low over the track in near darkness and appeared to land in the water meadow to the north.

Monday 11th

There were lots of large gulls swirling over Shackleford first thing, including four Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A Lapwing dropped into the alfalfa, where an impressive 150 or more Fieldfares were feeding. Otherwise it was fairly quiet, with a male Sparrowhawk, two Lesser Redpolls and a Grey Wagtail of note. The female Red-crested Pochard and the dark hybrid were at Snowdenham Mill Pond, along with three each of Gadwall and Mute Swan.

Tuesday 12th

A wet but thankfully brief walk to the Lammas Lands proved worthwhile, with two Jack Snipe flushed, including one at very close range. My highest count of Common Snipe, 20 or more, was also achieved, and a bonus Water Rail flew from an area of rushes. Three Grey Wagtails went over, along with a Red Kite, and an enthusiastic male Reed Bunting was singing. Another unseasonal songster caught my attention while working from home, and a short investigation from the kitchen window soon resulted in brief views of a male Blackcap – a very nice encounter on this grey and gloomy day.

Wednesday 13th

Another damp and murky day was illuminated by the continued presence of the Blackcap, which significantly distracted me from work during the morning as he occasionally burst into song outside my window and flitted around the garden. I also heard a Bullfinch.

The garden Blackcap.

Thursday 14th

A switch to a northerly wind meant there was no Blackcap to be heard at home today. A Red Kite flew over at dusk.

Friday 15th

A Lesser Black-backed Gull was the best observation from the kitchen window today.

Saturday 16th

Once the sun came out in the afternoon, a cycle to and around the Low Weald countryside south of Loxhill and Hascombe was pleasant. A sunflower field at Markwick Farm held a few bits, with at least 55 Stock Doves, eight Yellowhammers, a Reed Bunting and 20 or more Linnets present. In Great Godalming Copse, two Marsh Tits included a singing male and eight Crossbills landed in a pine. A hefty female Peregrine flew over, too. However, the most notable birds during the journey were thrushes – hundreds, in fact, including at least 400 Redwings and 50 or more Fieldfares, dotted around the fields and copses. Perhaps they’d been displaced by snow further north?

Big female Peregrine.

Sunday 17th

Unstead SF was quiet, as it has been for most of this winter, though I was very pleased to eventually locate a Cetti’s Warbler as one uttered its grating call from the lagoon reedbed – my first here since late November. Two Chiffchaffs, a Lesser Redpoll, a Reed Bunting and a Bullfinch were nearby. In the South Meadow, males of Kestrel and Stonechat were seen, and two Little Egrets were in Flooded Field. Shackleford was quiet, save impressive Fieldfare numbers and an apparent north-east movement of Woodpigeons.

Fieldfare flock at Shackleford.

Monday 18th

A walk to the Lammas Lands and back at lunchtime produced three Stonechats on Catteshall Meadow, four Mute Swans, a Nuthatch and a small flock of Siskins along the towpath by Catteshall Lock.

Friday, 8 January 2021

New Year, new lockdown

The inevitable return to national lockdown has put the brakes on any big birding start to 2021. To be honest though, local has always been ‘my jam’ and a personal goal for this year was to both keep things even closer to home than before (by focusing most of my south-west Surrey efforts on the area within a 5 km radius of the Godalming Pepperpot) and try and travel as green as possible; on foot or bike. In the coming weeks a fair few of my daily posts will be restricted to window observations from home so we’ll see if the blog persists in this format / at all during the rest of lockdown.

A local Yellowhammer pair unbound by a lockdown ...

Friday 1st

A Robin singing in the garden was the first bird of 2021. A different New Year’s Eve than usual meant I was fresh and at Thursley long before dawn, hoping for White-fronted Geese in the Pudmore roost. No joy, but two Green Sandpipers, a Snipe and a Shoveler more than made up for it, while two male Tawny Owls sang in the gloom. On Ockley, the Rustic Bunting and two Little Buntings soon appeared in their usual spot, vocalising a lot to boot. It was almost dark, so excuse the poor photos …

Bunting bonanza at Thursley.

A walk around the rest of the site was a bit underwhelming with only 35 species logged. This included a Little Grebe on Forked Pond, eight Woodlarks, two Dartford Warblers, eight Crossbills and 10 Lesser Redpolls

Next up was Enton Lakes, where a really handy south-west Surrey year tick was notched up in the form of Wigeon. A pair were roosting in bankside trees – not bad given I only had five records last year (and only two of them were away from Wrecclesham). Three drake Pochard, 46 Tufted Duck and singles of Common Gull, Great Crested Grebe and Egyptian Goose were also seen, along with a Nuthatch stashing seeds in bark.

Good value local wildfowl at Enton.

The Shelduck hadn’t miraculously returned to Snowdenham Mill Pond upon a visit after Enton; two drake Gadwall highlighted. Passing Broadwater Lake en route to the Lammas Lands I noted Sam’s flock of six Pochard – a great site record. Some 12 Snipe were counted on said Lammas Lands but sadly no Jack, and the previous day’s Dartford Warbler had done a bunk too. A Stonechat pair consoled.

Later in the day, a quick check of the house pond at Cutt Mill produced two drake Goosander and a Teal pair. It was really murky and dull by mid-afternoon and Shackleford was quiet – there was nothing to shout about at all, save some 100 roosting Fieldfares, until a Little Owl began calling close to dusk.

Saturday 2nd

I headed to Frensham Great Pond early afternoon, where Shaun P had relocated yesterday’s drake Red-crested Pochard, which had initially been found on nearby Lowicks Pond. This stunner was showing well off the hotel when I arrived as it hung out with 66 Tufted Duck and 21 Pochard. Away from Bramley this is a proper hard bird in south-west Surrey.

A dapper drake Red-crested Pochard at Frensham.

A much more successful dusk vigil was had at Shackleford in far better conditions. The usual Fieldfare numbers were into roost and, about 20 minutes after dark, a couple of Grey Partridges began singing – at least five were present with two seen in the fading light. Two Lapwings dropped in to feed and the Little Owl called to the north.

Sunday 3rd

An early morning dash to Broadwater Lake enabled me to connect with the adult White-fronted Goose before it left roost before sunrise. Only one of the three is left along the river now and had proven a slippery customer during the first couple of days of 2020, so it was nice to get it in the bag. I then visited Unstead SF but it was quite in dull and cold conditions. A couple of Chiffchaffs, a Bullfinch, two Mute Swans heading east and a male Stonechat highlighted before a sharp shower sent me back home.

Grainy white-front at Broadwater ...

Once the rain passed I headed to Thorncombe Street, where I undertook a long walk around the east and central sections. A Mute Swan at Birtley House Pond was notable but Bonhurst Farm was quiet, save a flyover Lesser Redpoll. A Marsh Tit was working along Poplar Avenue and a Grey Wagtail was near Lea Farm, but most of the action was from the top of Broomy Down where sightings of Crossbill, Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch, two Ravens and 85 or more Greylags were obtained.

The crops on the valley tops were quiet and it was the same on Allden’s Hill, though a male Sparrowhawk here was my first of the year. A Red-legged Partridge was sitting beside a hedgerow and a couple of Linnets were knocking about too.

Monday 4th

It was a morning of Kestrels with a female over Binscombe, before another was seen hunting at Shackleford. The latter site was terribly cold and windy. A few gulls overhead included a Lesser Black-backed and seven Teal on the reedy pond at Lydling Farm.

Tuesday 5th

A cold, windy and short-lived window watch from home delivered two each of Red Kite and Buzzard, as well as a trickle of the three common gull species heading north up the River Wey.

Wednesday 6th

A less windy but still cold window watch mid-afternoon produced a flyover Cormorant, a small flock of Goldfinches perched in birches and a Coal Tit.

Thursday 7th

The first stop on a looped bike circuit from home was Shalford Water Meadows. In the cold mist, a check of the Dagley Lane pools revealed the latest hiding place of the last remaining White-fronted Goose in this part of the River Wey, tucked in with its Canada congeners. Presumably this is an alternative roost site for it away from Broadwater and Stoke. Some 12 Shoveler were also on the pool and a Green Woodpecker and Reed Bunting were heard.

More grainy white-front action.

My next stop was Shackleford where a walk of the main fields was quiet, save three Stonechats and two Ravens, the latter of which were seemingly a pair and occasionally engaged in some bonding: a few light cronks, preening of each other and a bit of bill tapping. 

Ravens and friend.

The game crops the other side of Hook Lane were much better though and indeed held the biggest congregation of seed-eaters I’ve seen locally this winter. Best of all was a huge flock of Chaffinches – 90 or more, but possibly well over 100. At least one Yellowhammer was present, along with a few Reed Buntings and a Bullfinch. A Chiffchaff called and a covey of Red-legged Partridges scuttled up a slope before, having looked up after hearing a familiar flight call, a flock of no fewer than 21 Woodlarks headed south. Perhaps they’d come off one of the nearby winter stubbles. Whatever the case, it was the biggest flock of this species I’ve ever seen in Britain.

Friday 8th

A hard frost had taken over the farmland around Hydestile and Hambledon on my morning cycle. Court Farm was dead the other week but there were a few more bits around today. The main path runs along the Greensand Ridge and I wondered if some cold weather movement was going on: small parties of Chaffinches and Linnets headed west, as well as a single Skylark and two Woodlarks. That said, the first three species are regular in the fields here during winter and I’ve had January Woodlark at this site before too …

Flocked up birds included 50 Linnets, 34 Siskins heading south-west and an impressive mixed thrush congregation of 150 or more. I’m certainly seeing a lot of Redwings and Fieldfares locally at present. Singles of Stonechat, Bullfinch and Crossbill were detected too, while a Yellowhammer pair flirted with each other while flitting about the fields.

Yellowhammer and Stonechat braving the cold.

Passing Tuesley on the way back, another big thrush flock was seen – 100 or more mainly Redwings. On the reservoir, seven Little Grebes were accompanied by four Tufted Duck.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

South-west Surrey big year: final list breakdown

Following on from my review of key sites during my 2020 south-west Surrey big year (see here), this post looks at the final list and the status of each species on it. In the end, I finished on 159 – far surpassing my goal of 150, which was reached in mid-September. This total represents 80% of the Surrey vice-county year list record (198), something I was both pleased with and surprised at, given the size of the area. Hopefully this document will make interesting reading in the decades to come. The below list is in taxonomic order.

1. Red-legged Partridge

Uncommon or relatively common resident, especially around the many shooting estates, as far north as the Hog’s Back and as far west as Elstead. I recorded this species at 13 sites with a clear concentration around the farmland of the Low Weald where my highest counts (50 being the maximum) were achieved.

2. Grey Partridge

An unexpected addition to the list when a covey of eight pitched up at Shackleford from early November. Clearly releases from somewhere nearby, this isn’t the first time ‘pop up populations’ of this species have occurred in south-west Surrey in recent years and for this reason it goes down as a very rare resident.

Four gamebird species in a year is a great modern-day total in Surrey, let alone just in south-west.

3. Quail

A county rarity – in part due to the wooded and hilly nature of Surrey – this species hadn’t been recorded in south-west Surrey since 2011. So, it was one of the highlights of the year when a singing bird pitched up at Shackleford for little under two weeks in mid-June. Probably an artefact of a minor ‘Quail year’ nationally.

4. Pheasant

Common resident; abundant in some areas of shooting land.

5. Greylag Goose

Fairly common resident and increasing.

6. White-fronted Goose

South-west Surrey’s 16th and 17th records – at Thursley Common / Snowdenham Mill Pond and along the River Wey respectively – was a fine way to end the year, amid an astonishing influx of the species to south-east England. Will some of the first-year birds that visited return again next year?

7. Barnacle Goose

A rare, low-level and feral resident, presumably the same bird was seen at three sites on four dates.

8. Canada Goose

Common resident.

Common Canadas ...

9. Mute Swan

Fairly common resident.

10. Egyptian Goose

Relatively common and increasing resident.

11. Shelduck

A rare passage migrant and winter visitor. I wasn’t expecting to see any local Shelduck this year; I ended with four records from four sites (though late November and December records at Shalford and Snowdenham Mill Pond may account for the same bird). 

12. Mandarin

Relatively common resident in suitable habitat.

13. Shoveler

A scarce passage migrant and localised winter visitor, seen at only five sites. Early spring and early autumn produces small numbers moving through dabbling duck hot-spots, but in the winter it proved very hard to pin down, with single birds seen at just two sites.

14. Gadwall

Fairly uncommon and somewhat localised; essentially resident at Snowdenham Mill Pond (where it was recorded in every month) but seen at only four other sites, three of them involving single records.

15. Wigeon

Rare and highly localised / weather dependent. If there are winter floods, then birds appear on Wrecclesham Water Meadows, in the far north-west of the recording area. Otherwise, this is a bird you’re unlikely to encounter: the only two records both came on 29 November, at Broadwater Lake and Snowdenham Mill Pond, following fog and easterlies.

Wigeon: rare and localised.

16. Mallard

Very common resident.

17. Pintail

A single record, at Frensham Great Pond on 4 January, was the only one in the area this year and confirms that this duck is barely an annual visitor to south-west Surrey.

18. Teal

Relatively common winter visitor in favoured locales (Snowdenham Mill Pond, the river etc) but never numerous. Probably breeds on Thursley Common most years and indeed did so in 2020; a very nice species to have breeding locally.

19. Red-crested Pochard

Very low-level and rare feral resident, almost exclusive to Snowdenham Mill Pond and Bramley Park Lake where it popped up on six dates this year.

20. Pochard

Uncommon and localised winter visitor. A flock at Frensham Great Pond is regular in the winter months, as is a much smaller group at Enton Lakes, and these are the only places I saw this declining species in the area. I know of only two other records – both singles birds, at Cutt Mill and Broadwater.

21. Tufted Duck

Relatively common resident, seemingly declining as a wintering species.

22. Goosander

Fairly low-level and localised winter visitor, almost exclusive to Cutt Mill, though small groups seemingly reside at Lowick’s Pond, Churt, and Forked Pond, Thursley, too.

23. Nightjar

A relatively common summer visitor to the sandy heaths almost exclusively west of the A3. Probably persists along the Greensand Ridge but requires investigation.

24. Swift

A fairly common summer visitor. A remarkable passage of 509 over Thorncombe Street on 7 July was a year highlight.

25. Cuckoo

A relatively common and widespread summer visitor; recorded at 20 sites.

Cuckoos are doing OK in the rural parts of the area.

26. Feral Pigeon

Very common resident.

27. Stock Dove

Common resident.

28. Woodpigeon

Very common resident.

29. Turtle Dove

The confirmation of a tiny, relic breeding population was one of the highlights of the year. At least one pair bred successfully, with singing males located at three sites. Hopefully this species can hang on.

30. Collared Dove

Very common resident.

31. Water Rail

A somewhat uncommon and localised winter visitor, though doubtless under recorded. Also a rare breeding resident (confirmed at Thursley and Frensham). Only recorded at five sites.

Water Rail: occasionally seen and rarely heard.

32. Moorhen

Very common resident.

33. Coot

Common resident.

34. Little Grebe

Common resident.

35. Great Crested Grebe

Relatively common resident though localised.

36. Oystercatcher

A very rare passage migrant, seen once in mid-July at Tuesley and in early August at Thursley. Aware of one spring record (Lammas Lands in May).

37. Golden Plover

A scarce passage migrant and winter visitor, recorded four times. Three of these were at Shackleford – the best local site for this tricky species.

38. Lapwing

Somewhat uncommon in the winter, when it is dependent on suitable fields at sites such as Shackleford and Loseley. A rare but clear spring passage migrant and just about hanging on as a breeding species in the Low Weald farmland.

39. Ringed Plover

Very rare passage migrant, with single Tuesley records in both spring and autumn.

One of seven south-west Surrey lifers for me this year ...

40. Little Ringed Plover

Scarce passage migrant. Took me until May to connect with this traditionally early spring returnee, but eventually had four records at three sites including two lingerers. A bird on the Lammas Lands for a few days in early May may have been attempting to breed nearby.

41. Whimbrel

Rare passage migrant. Single spring and early autumn records at Tuesley.

42. Curlew

Very rare and localised breeding visitor and rare passage migrant. The Thursley pair seemingly failed again, thank to the fire on Ockley Common. Their late return of mid-March was notable. The only other record flew over Thorncombe Street on 5 July – symptomatic of the particularly early return passage of waders in this area, as well as the scarcity of this bird away from Thursley.

43. Dunlin

Rare passage migrant, almost exclusively to Tuesley (three records), though a tame juvenile in a puddle at Shackleford in late August was a year highlight.

44. Jack Snipe

A low-level and localised winter visitor, almost exclusively on the Lammas Lands where it takes some finding. Probably frequents Thursley at this time of year too and I had my only record away from the river here in November.

45. Woodcock

A relatively common summer visitor, mainly to the sandy western heaths west of the A3. Scarce in the winter but doubtless under recorded.

46. Snipe

A relatively common winter visitor to suitable habitat. Some birds summer at Thursley though no breeding was anticipated in 2020.

A typical view of a local Snipe.

47. Common Sandpiper

An uncommon but regular and fairly widespread passage migrant. Recorded at four sites, of which Tuesley was very reliable.

48. Green Sandpiper

A scarce and rather unpredictable passage migrant and winter visitor, seen at four sites. One spring record was followed by five autumn birds, then a sole winter record.

49. Greenshank

Very rare passage migrant, with single spring and autumn records from Tuesley.

50. Redshank

A rare passage migrant exclusive to Tuesley, where six birds included a surprising and impressive five in July.

51. Black-headed Gull

Very common winter visitor. Small numbers breed.

52. Mediterranean Gull

Very rare passage migrant. I had just one – a typical March bird heading to roost at Frensham Great Pond – and am aware of just two other records.

53. Little Gull

A welcome addition – this species is barely annual in south-west Surrey, and almost exclusive to Frensham. One of those rare occasions twitching the weather pays off, an adult was at the Great Pond for the afternoon of a very showery 17 April.

One of the highlights of spring.

54. Common Gull

Common winter visitor. Rare between April and September.

55. Herring Gull

Fairly common winter and passage visitor; uncommon in summer.

56. Yellow-legged Gull

A rare passage and winter visitor that I didn’t expect to see in 2020, surprisingly recorded three times, two of which were at Shackleford.

57. Lesser Black-backed Gull

Uncommon and low-level winter visitor; slightly more regular on passage (especially early autumn) and very rare in summer.

58. Great Black-backed Gull

Only two records! This species is rare in the area and cold weather or spring passage is the time to see one. Both my records involved spring migrants tracking the High Weald Ridge.

59. Common Tern

A relatively common, albeit localised, summer visitor.

60. Arctic Tern

A rare and less than annual passage migrant, at least two dropped into Frensham Great Pond with the Little Gull during the April showers on 17th of that month.

61. Cormorant

A fairly common resident, though it doesn’t breed.

62. Grey Heron

Fairly common resident.

63. Great Egret

Still a bit of a local mega with only six records in south-west Surrey prior to 2020, so I was surprised to see two birds at three spots: one was at Frensham Great Pond and then over Thursley Common on 25-26 October; the other was by the River Wey at Eashing on 30 November.

64. Little Egret

Relatively common, although a little localised, winter visitor and a rare and low-level breeding bird in the summer.

An increasing winter sight.

65. Osprey

Rare / scarce passage migrant. Several Ospreys probably drift over south-west Surrey skies most years but jamming into one is down to luck. I managed such fortune in early April (from my window at home, flying up the River Wey) and in mid-September (at Thursley, where one flew from presumed roost early morning).

66. Honey Buzzard

This species averages less than one passage record a year in the area and an adult over Unstead SF in early August was reflective of that trend.

67. Marsh Harrier

Rare passage migrant, probably sitting between Osprey and Honey Buzzard in terms of frequency during these periods. My only record, over Tuesley Farm on 30 August, was on a classic date. At least two records came from Thursley but I’m unaware of any others.

68. Hen Harrier

A rare passage migrant; a scarce and localised winter visitor in most years. The 2019-2020 wintering ringtail at Thursley was seen a handful of times in the first winter period and was my only local record. It seems that there aren’t any using the site in the second half of the year, though.

69. Sparrowhawk

A fairly common resident.

70. Goshawk

A rare and localised resident, though increasing. A bird up the River Wey on 27 March was a lockdown special and far from any suitable habitat.

One of my favourite species is doing well close to home.

71. Red Kite

A fairly common resident. Impressive winter roost at Hankley.

72. Buzzard

A common resident.

73. Barn Owl

A rare, low-level and localised resident. I only had four records, from three sites, and know of only one or two other anecdotal areas.

74. Little Owl

Uncommon, fairly localised and seemingly on the decline. I had records from five sites and know of at least one other definite spot.

75. Tawny Owl

Fairly common resident.

76. Kingfisher

Relatively common resident along waterbodies. I had birds at 15 sites.

77. Wryneck

South-west Surrey’s first record for 17 years – at Shackleford on 2 September – was a highlight of the year.

An early autumn highlight.

78. Great Spotted Woodpecker

A common resident.

79. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

A rare, localised and declining resident, though it’s doing better in south-west Surrey than many other areas in England. I had records at seven sites, five of which involved birds exhibiting breeding behaviour. Sadly the first lockdown put pay to pinning down nest sites this year.

80. Green Woodpecker

A common resident.

81. Kestrel

A fairly common though somewhat localised, and apparently declining, resident.

82. Red-footed Falcon

The Thursley Red-footed Falcon – south-west Surrey’s third and Surrey’s 10th – was one of the spring highlights when it spent four days at the site in mid-May, proving rather mobile. Prolonged views and finding it myself would have made this record even sweeter!

83. Merlin

A very rare passage migrant and winter visitor. My only record was a female-type at Thursley Common in early October; I missed one at Shackleford in mid-September, and there have been a couple of December reports from Thursley, where this species used to winter regularly until fairly recently.

84. Hobby

An uncommon or relatively common summer visitor. Recorded at 12 sites.

85. Peregrine

A scarce and localised resident, rarer in the winter. Seen at nine sites though rarely encountered in the southern half of the recording area. 

A rare view of a local Peregrine not in flight.

86. Ring-necked Parakeet

A rare and very localised recent colonist, seen only at Shackleford, where it is absent from late April to early July. Thought to breed near Puttenham.

87. Great Grey Shrike

This once winter staple of south-west Surrey has been a bit of a slippery customer during the last couple of years. One was at Frensham Common for a few weeks in February, where I saw it twice, and another briefly used Thursley for little more than a week in November and December, where I saw it once. 

88. Jay

Common resident.

89. Magpie

Very common resident.

90. Jackdaw

Very common resident.

91. Rook

Common resident.

92. Carrion Crow

Very common resident.

93. Raven

Uncommon but will be relatively common soon due to ongoing increase in the area. Seen at 19 sites, with at least four known nests.

Happy Raven family.

94. Coal Tit

Common resident.

95. Marsh Tit

Localised and generally uncommon, but rather common in some areas of Low Weald woodland and around the Thorncombe Street valley. Seen at 20 sites.

96. Blue Tit

Very common resident.

97. Great Tit

Very common resident.

98. Short-toed Lark

A second for Surrey (last one over half a century ago) and first for south-west Surrey, at Shackleford from 19-20 September, was easily my bird of the year and honestly a crazy record for the area. Not sure I’ll ever find anything as good in the county again!

99. Woodlark

A relatively common, though localised, resident, almost exclusive to the sandy heaths west of the A3. I wonder if this species is a bit under recorded – signs of breeding at sites such as Dunsfold Aerodrome and farmland around Loxhill suggest this may be the case.

A favourite songster of mine.

100. Skylark

A fairly common resident. 

101. Sedge Warbler

A low-level and localised summer visitor almost exclusively found along the Wey between Farncombe and Shalford (only 3-4 pairs). I only recorded birds at Unstead Water Meadows and Unstead SF. Uncommon at random sites on passage. Exploration of riverine habitat further west needs to be done.

102. Reed Warbler

A relatively common or uncommon summer visitor and localised, though more widespread than Sedge Warber. Uncommon at random sites on passage.

103. Grasshopper Warbler

A very rare and localised summer visitor, known from one location (the first confirmed Surrey breeding since 1998). A rare passage migrant; I had one record, in late August.

104. Sand Martin

A relatively uncommon passage migrant, though seen in numbers at sites like Frensham. Not sure this species breeds in the area anymore – blanks at the Wrecclesham / Runfold pits and near St Catherine’s Hill.

105. House Martin

A fairly common summer visitor.

106. Swallow

A fairly common summer visitor.

The bird of warmer days ...

107. Willow Warbler

A relatively common summer visitor though declining and may be uncommon soon. Singing males heard at 15 sites.

108. Chiffchaff

A common summer visitor; a scarce and localised winter visitor.

109. Cetti’s Warbler

A rare and very localised recent colonist, known only from a couple of spots along the Wey between Godalming and Unstead. At least one pair is thought to have attempted to breed.

110. Long-tailed Tit

A very common resident.

111. Blackcap

A common summer visitor; rare winter visitor.

112. Garden Warbler

A fairly common summer visitor. Singing males heard at 23 sites.

113. Lesser Whitethroat

A very rare and localised summer visitor; scarce or rare passage migrant. Only two breeding sites / territorial male locales known – Binscombe and Painshill Farm, Dunsfold (the only other site, near Wrecclesham, was seemingly abandoned). Passage birds were at two other sites: Shackleford and Unstead Water Meadows.

Not an easy local bird ...

114. Whitethroat

A common summer visitor.

115. Dartford Warbler

A locally common resident, almost exclusive to the sandy heaths near to or west of the A3 (i.e. 25 at Thursley on 11 April). Bred on cleared forestry land on Greensand Ridge for first known time in the area.

116. Goldcrest

A very common resident.

117. Firecrest

A fairly common and increasing resident (singing males recorded at 32 sites); uncommon in the winter.

118. Nuthatch

A common resident.

119. Treecreeper

A common resident.

120. Wren

A very common resident.

121. Starling

A very common resident.

122. Mistle Thrush

A common resident.

One of six thrush species seen.

123. Song Thrush

A very common resident.

124. Redwing

A common winter visitor.

125. Fieldfare

A common winter visitor.

126. Ring Ouzel

An uncommon or scarce passage migrant. Seemingly a below average autumn – I only had two, at Thorncombe Street and the Devil’s Punchbowl, in late September and early October respectively. Expected a few more. 

127. Blackbird

A very common resident.

128. Spotted Flycatcher

An uncommon or relatively common summer visitor. Doing OK in this part of the south-east – of 14 sites where I recorded the species, eight involved some form of breeding behaviour. Uncommon on passage.

Always a pleasure to bump into.

129. Robin

A very common resident.

130. Nightingale

An uncommon or relatively common, but very localised, summer visitor. Of the eight sites I recorded the species, seven where in a tight cluster in the Low Weald – the species’ Surrey stronghold – as far north as Hascombe, west as Grayswood, east as Dunsfold and south as Alfold. Here, the population is strong (i.e. 10 singing males in Chiddingfold Forest on 2 May). The local nature of this species makes the return of a population at Milford Common, where four males held territory, all the more impressive.

131. Pied Flycatcher

Always a good bird in Surrey and, in this region, averages one record every two or three years. However, 2020 was the second year in a row there was an August influx of the species and I ended up seeing three birds: at Chiddingfold Forrest on 12th, Crooksbury Common on 14th and Hascombe on 18th.

132. Redstart

A relatively common though localised breeder; an uncommon passage migrant. I had breeding / territorial birds at seven sites and passage migrants (away from known breeding locales) at three sites.

133. Black Redstart

Averages one or two a year and indeed there were two this year, both in the late autumn. The only one I saw was at Rushmoor on 18 October.

134. Whinchat

An uncommon passage migrant, mainly in autumn. 2020 seemed to be a good year for this species and / or Shackleford is clearly a hot-spot: I had 19 bird days here. I saw Whinchats at three other sites. Of my total of 23 records, only one was in the spring. 

135. Stonechat

A fairly common though relatively localised resident; a little less common but more widespread in winter.

136. Wheatear

A relatively common passage migrant.  As with Whinchat, Shackleford was a hot-spot with 22 bird days, including a high count of 10 on 18 April. I recorded the species at six other locations.

Not much beats a spring male Wheatear.

137. Dunnock

A very common resident.

138. House Sparrow

A very common resident.

139. Grey Wagtail

A fairly common resident at appropriate water bodies.

140. Yellow Wagtail

An uncommon passage migrant, mainly in autumn. I recorded birds at six sites and, again, Shackleford was the hot-spot with 16 bird days and a high count of 27 on 27 August.

141. Pied Wagtail

A very common resident.

142. Meadow Pipit

A common winter visitor and passage migrant; absent in the summer (between early May and late August) and now thought to be extirpated from the region as a breeder.

The humble Meadow Pipit.

143. Tree Pipit

A relatively common but localised breeder, almost exclusive to the sandy heaths near or west of the A3, but also present on cleared forestry land on the Greensand Ridge. Uncommon but fairly regularly encountered on passage.

144. Water Pipit

A rare and very localised winter visitor and passage migrant, exclusively to the Lammas Lands. Still a bit of an enigma, this species may occur based on rainfall in the winter. There seems to be a gentle spring passage – my two records were on the Lammas Lands in March. 

145. Chaffinch

A common resident.

146. Brambling

An uncommon or scarce winter and passage visitor with fluctuating numbers. 2019-2020 was poor and I had one record in the first half of the year; the second winter period was better with 15 records from seven sites.

147. Hawfinch

After the craziness of 2017-2018, this species seemingly reverted to type in 2020: a scarce passage migrant and elusive and low-level resident of Low Weald woodland. Most of my handful of records reflected this (i.e. two during a Thorncombe Street vis-mig on 22 September; two over Loxhill farmland on 21 February). The oddity was two over Thursley Common on 10 May.

148. Bullfinch

A fairly common resident.

149. Greenfinch

A common resident.

150. Linnet

A fairly common resident.

Loadsa Linnets.

151. Common Redpoll

A rare bird in Surrey and prone to influx years. With so many Lesser Redpolls about in the second half of the year, it was almost inevitable that one would appear and so it proved, at Holmen’s Grove, Grayswood, on 26 November.

152. Lesser Redpoll

A relatively common or uncommon winter visitor. A wretched first winter period (six records!) contrasted with an excellent second half of the year (63 bird days). The impressive flock of 170 or more at Thursley was a spectacle.

153. Siskin

A relatively common winter visitor; a scarce (but perhaps unappreciated) breeding resident. I was very pleased to find a successful nest on Witley Common and I recorded this species between May and June at eight other sites. 

154. Goldfinch

A very common resident.

155. Crossbill

An uncommon or relatively common resident and winter visitor, prone to influxes. Like Lesser Redpoll and Brambling, this species was thin on the ground in the first winter period – I saw none before 21 April. But the second half of the year was much better with the species very widespread and included some 56 during a Thorncombe Street vis-mig.

156. Yellowhammer

An uncommon and fairly localised resident, with a clear stronghold in the Low Weald (where in some areas it’s relatively common). In winter this species has become much harder to connect with and it’s unclear where the summer birds go. A count of 14 along a 0.8 km stretch of the Greensand Way shows the species’ preference for the Weald.

Another personal favourite.

157. Reed Bunting

Relatively common resident in wet areas; found more readily on farmland and commons in winter.

158. Little Bunting

The discovery of one at Thursley Common on 19 October was the second-best moment of the year for me and was the eighth Surrey record (fourth for south-west Surrey). Amazingly it lingered until the year’s end and was incredulously joined by a second bird! 

159. Rustic Bunting

A strong contender for Surrey bird of the year, this momentous find by Dave capped off a spectacular autumn for passerines locally when he discovered it on 27 November. Only the second for Surrey and a first for south-west Surrey.

A further eight species were recorded in south-west Surrey in 2020, bringing the regional total to 167. Seven of these I missed; the other I recorded on noc-mig (so can’t include in my personal total). The full list follows: 

Brent Goose

Averages just about one a year and one over Shackleford on 28 November (thought to be the bird that pitched up at Tice’s the next day and is still there at the end of December) was a bit gripping, but you can’t bank on unusual flyovers.


Easily the most painful omission. As with most diving duck species, Scaup is becoming much rarer in southern England and this species is always a good inland record anyway. South-west Surrey’s first for 14 years was at Frensham for seemingly a couple of hours maximum on 30 October. Late news meant it had gone by the time I got there. Could easily be another 14 years – or more – before the next.

Common Scoter

A small flock was sound recorded over my home on 3 April. This species actually rocks up at Frensham once every four or five years, but there were no 2020 records. Perhaps it’s a shout to stay up late and listen out on murky March and April nights in 2021 …

Black Tern

Frensham scores Black Tern more or less annually, often with multiple records. The only 2020 sighting came from a birder twitching the aforementioned Little Gull and Arctic Terns, on 17 April, so was a bit gripping as they must have arrived late in the day. I still need this species for Surrey (!) so hopefully it falls next year.


One, maybe two, Bitterns winter at Frensham Little Pond each year but they are very hard to connect with – a combination of hours of effort and good fortune is needed to score. I gave plenty of the former, but lacked the latter. Around the full moon in March, on clear, calm nights, is the best time as birds prepare to depart back to their presumed European breeding grounds and can be seen noisily circling the pond at dusk. Despite a few stakeouts at this time, I dipped.

Short-eared Owl

This species is a proper rarity in south-west Surrey with barely any suitable habitat (the bog at Ockley lacks rodents). Years can go by without any records in the region. It evades my local life list and encountering one is normally chance. In 2020, brief flyovers were at Thursley (twice) and Hankley Common (once); I dipped the latter which was thought to have roosted.


Jeremy had the first south-west Surrey Hoopoe for 15 years in flight over The Sands on 15 May but, despite searching the local area all morning, I couldn’t relocate it. Given the influx of this species in spring 2020 I was hoping to find one myself, but it’s another bird that requires luck to encounter purely because they can turn up practically anywhere.

Wood Warbler

Maybe in second place behind Scaup as the most frustrating one to miss. For starters, I had plans to locate a territorial male or breeding pair – this happened, but some 400 metres over the Sussex border! On top of that, I dipped a brief spring male at the Devil’s Punch Bowl and an autumn bird at Crooksbury Common. Now a county rarity …

This final handful of species constitute notable omissions from the area in 2020. Some are a bit tenuous in terms of being ‘notably’ not recorded, but still.


A winter fixture at Frensham Great Pond until the mid-2000s at least, this species wasn’t recorded anywhere in the region in 2020 – a sure sign of our warming winters.

Wood Sandpiper

At the start of the year, Dave B told me I had a 40% chance of scoring this species at Thursley, where, in most autumns, one or two may drop into Pudmore. Despite many checks from July to September, not one was found or reported.

Black Kite

A Surrey mega and definitely not expected, but given the influx into England in spring 2020 it was surprising that a) more weren’t definitively identified in the county and b) one of the many photographers at i.e. Thursley didn’t accidently snap one, for example.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Becoming more regular in autumn and winter in Surrey, and certainly an annually expected species, YBW remains curiously mega in south-west Surrey with less than five records. Surely set to fall at Unstead SF one day soon.