The title says it all really, with the final week of April similar to the rest of the month: unseasonally cold, with little rain making for a poorly nourished countryside. Migrants are still being held up but, given it's now so late in the season, some stuff has had to move through and at times the last week has been great fun, making for a pretty decent end to a frustrating April. Hopefully May will be more like spring ...
|A local singing Wood Warbler: a definite highlight of spring 2021.|
Another cold start at Tuesley. A Common Sandpiper was new in and the Green Sandpiper was still present, but there was nothing scarcer. I headed to the Lammas Lands next and tried my luck on the new scrape on Overgone Meadow. A late Snipe flushed out, but it was otherwise quiet, save five Whitethroats, three Reed Buntings and, a little further upriver, one of the Cetti’s Warblers.
I then tried out Painshill Farm, near Dunsfold, where I had Lesser Whitethroat breeding last year. No joy, but a brief pleasant moment came when Cuckoo, Nightingale and Yellowhammer all sang simultaneously (one of each, of course, we are in England after all … ). There was in fact another Nightingale which appeared to be a silent male, due to the vocal bird chasing it around while alarm calling.
Other bits included Skylark, two Red-legged Partridges and Bullfinch, a Linnet pair prospecting a bramble bush and a few Whitethroats. I then went to Shackleford but an hour-long circuit was low on quality, with only 26 species detected. This included the continuing Greenland Wheatear but it was otherwise very quiet indeed.
It was a bit better at Tuesley this morning, with two new Green Sandpipers joining the wintering bird, though they didn’t hang around long. A Common Sandpiper was a bit less flighty. A Cuckoo sang distantly but it was cold and I cut short the session.
|Common Sand in flight.|
Later on, Sam called with news of a Wood Warbler at Puttenham Common. I headed over and was soon enjoying this cracking Phylloscopus in an area of open woodland, even though it was a bit mobile and had stopped singing. I missed this species in south-west Surrey last year so was pleased to connect – one or two records are about annual around here these days and they can be slippery customers.
|Wood Warbler in the spring sunshine.|
It felt like the first properly good patch bird of the spring and, despite the relentless wind, it was nice to sit and watch it go about its business. Kudos to Sam – Puttenham is very poorly birded but has heaps of potential – and I think the encounter gave me an encouraging shot in the arm in regard to spring migration, which has been especially underwhelming so far …
I also scored my first Garden Warbler of the season at Puttenham, singing in some scrub, and a Cuckoo was also in voice. In the evening, a Swift flew over Farncombe – probably an early returning bird to the colony here.
‘It only takes one bird’ is what I’ve been telling myself a lot recently – this morning at Tuesley I had a few, in what was vintage hour or so that will live long in the memory. The first bird I clapped my eyes on was a Brent Goose, sat incongruously on the water. I presumed this would be the bird that wintered at Tice’s Meadow and had recently been at Stoke Lake, but it was in fact an adult and thus a new bird – my first south-west Surrey Brent for nearly four years and a mega here.
|Brent Goose action.|
A couple of Common Sandpipers and the Green Sandpiper were flying around when a brick red lump in the far shore caught my eye: Bar-tailed Godwit! This has long been my most wanted wader here and I couldn’t quite believe it, as it sat motionless, presumably having arrived overnight.
|First views of the Barwit ...|
The bird, a male, hadn’t detected me so I hastily called Dave and Eric who were soon on site. We made our way a little closer but by now the bird had become alert and agitated, with the cacophony of Black-headed Gulls not helping. Eventually it flew, high north towards Arctic breeding grounds, but what a magical encounter it had been.
|More Barwit action.|
Barwit has long been my most obvious Surrey lifer and so it was nice to find my own on patch, and helped erase memories of when Matt, Sam and I had a flock of 50 or more probables over Thorncombe Street a few years ago. This is obviously a very rare south-west Surrey bird (borderline mega) and constitutes the 12th record (only the sixth on the deck!), with the last on 1 May 2006 at Frensham Great Pond. It was also my 223rd Surrey vice-county bird …
The excitement didn’t end there. A Yellow Wagtail had flown over and a Cuckoo was singing distantly just as we were wrapping it up. As we headed back, I predicted that Greenshank could appear in the coming days and, to our astonishment, a few seconds later the chew chew chew of one could be heard!
|Greenshank and Yellow Wagtail flyovers.|
We picked the bird up and it circled the reservoir once but continued on north. A really amazing morning at a site that is punishing more often than not, but all the cold and empty watches were rendered worthwhile. It’s just a shame the site is strictly private and such birds can’t be widely shared.
After a coffee break I headed over to Puttenham to see if the cold northerly had held up the Wood Warbler’s migration. As soon as I got near the area of open woodland I could hear it singing lots and I soon spotted it, favouring the birches again. It’s unlikely this is a prospective breeder but the habitat looks good and I suppose you never know ... whatever the case, it’s an absolute belter and a bird I could have spent all day with.
Willow and Garden Warblers were also in voice, a Cuckoo sang and a Lesser Redpoll and two Siskins flew over. I did a quick check of Shackleford next, where the wind had really picked up. A Raven flew over, a female Kestrel watched from a perch and three Red-legged Partridges were in the alfalfa. A showy female Wheatear concluded an exceptional morning of local birding, all within 5 km of my front door.
|A particularly tame Wheatear.|
I caught up with Nick H in the afternoon at Thorncombe Street, where there are three nests at the White Stork reintroduction site, one of which is thought to contain an egg. In the warm and breezy conditions not much else was about, save two singing male Firecrests and a pair of Red-legged Partridges.
|White Stork on the nest.|
It was a very early start for some consultancy work in Birmingham city centre, where a three-hour survey revealed very little of note, even if singles of Blackcap and Buzzard were a bit of a surprise in such an urban setting.
I walked along the river in the evening, notching up 41 species. The best bits came on the Lammas Lands, namely one each of Cetti’s Warbler, Stonechat and Reed Bunting, as well as two late Snipe which were flushed from the scrape. At Unstead Water Meadows a male Grey Wagtail was taking food to noisy chicks hidden in some ivy and a Kestrel was knocking about.
It was noticeably milder at Thursley first thing but, with the wind still in the north-east, dawn chorus was subdued. Pudmore held three displaying Lapwings and a singing Snipe – the latter should breed now. A Curlew was heard (Doug and Penny have had the female back, so they too should nest soon) and a male Wheatear was on Shrike Hill. A Lesser Redpoll flew over and a few Crossbills were about as well. With rain forecast later in the day I headed home early to do some work.
When the rain did come – for, it must be said, the first time in weeks – it was light to moderate and never felt overly promising, despite a big inland movement of Arctic Terns in the Midlands. I staked out Frensham Great Pond for about an hour and impressive hirundine numbers were about – 400 or more of all three species – plus some 90 Swifts. Cuckoo, Firecrest and Reed Warbler sang despite the weather, but the only tern I scored was Common (three).
I tried Enton next and there were decent hirundine numbers over Johnson’s, though only one Swift. A Mandarin pair were on the water, two Common Terns were overhead and a Wren was carrying faecal sacs out of a nest. My final stop on what had become a very soggy and cold circuit was Tuesley, and my efforts were rewarded when I espied a Little Ringed Plover on the far shore – my first of the year. A nice male to boot, it had clearly ditched down in the now rather heavy rain.
|A smart LRP.|
I met Abel and Dave at Thursley first thing. It was bright and still, but still rather cold, though not enough to deter the two Lapwing pairs from displaying. A Snipe was singing towards West Bog and even performed a brief spurt of drumming, while the unpaired male Curlew sang in the distance. There was a bit of activity between Redstart Corner and Spur Wood, not least two flyover Yellow Wagtails – always good here in the spring. A male Wheatear was on Shrike Hill, too.
A few Redstarts were in voice and included two territorial males chasing each other around over a female. A Woodlark was carrying food nearby and, intriguingly, a Meadow Pipit dived into a heather clump before emerging a few minutes later. This species was lost as a breeding bird in south-west Surrey several years ago, so such behaviour was interesting. A Crossbill family party included two juveniles being fed by adults – a nice way to confirm breeding this year.
|Redstart and Crossbill action.|
Abel and I checked out Puttenham Common afterwards as he’d yet to catch up with the Wood Warbler. It was easy to locate, in its favoured spot, singing away at close range. What a beauty – and there’s a real possibility it could hold fort here for a while, with the habitat much like their usual breeding grounds further north and west. The Cuckoo was singing, a decent three Garden Warblers were nearby – this remains the only site where I’ve seen the species this year! – Woodlark was heard and a Yellowhammer flew over, the latter recently extirpated from this site and thus of note.
I walked Shackleford afterwards, but it was rather quiet in the increasing wind. A few Swallows zipped low over the alfalfa, which contained four Red-legged Partridges, and a female Wheatear was at the south end.
|Swallow and Wheatear.|
Another rather chilly morning but much cloudier than of late. I opted to visit The Hurtwood for the first time this spring, and spent an hour circuiting the area. The specialities were all present – singles of Dartford Warbler, Tree Pipit (a flushed bird) and Woodlark, as well as two male Cuckoos. Siskin and Bullfinch were heard-only, a Willow Warbler sang and there were at least two male Garden Warblers in voice, one of which performed nicely for my recorder.
A check of Snowdenham Mill Pond produced four drake Gadwall, four Tufted Duck and a territorial male Mute Swan – perhaps a female is sitting nearby. I walked Shackleford after, where the cloud was keeping migrants fairly low, meaning I was able to detect flyover Tree Pipit (my first at the site this year) and Yellow Wagtail. A pair of Greenland Wheatears were at the south end but it was otherwise rather quiet.
Some light early evening showers tempted me back to Shackleford but there was not much doing, although the female Wheatear was still about. Three Lesser Black-backed Gulls cruised over but the highlight was a Little Owl perched on a dead tree.
|Little Owl to end the month.|