Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 31 May 2021

All quiet on the south-western front

I haven’t got loads to report from the last three weeks, during what’s been a quiet May in south-west Surrey (and indeed nationally). What an odd spring this has been – an exceptionally dry and frosty April followed by what must be one of the wettest Mays on record. Unfortunately I suspect it’ll be a summer of poor breeding success, which sadly has already been evidenced in some species. However, what with various activities – not least socialising! – being back on the cards since the latest lifting of restrictions, a lull in bird activity has actually been quite timely. And the weather has picked up during the last few days, so hopefully the start of June will be decent.

A hunting Hobby.

Tuesday 11th

A walk around Painshill Farm in mild and bright conditions felt birdy, with six species of warbler on offer, including a surprise Reed Warbler. It seems I encounter this species in a whacky location just about annually, and to hear one singing away from a dense hawthorn hedge, far from any water, was most unexpected.

A silent, late migrant Willow Warbler was also about and a Garden Warbler pair included a displaying male (not something I’ve seen in this species before; a rather begging juvenile-like fluttering of wings) but there was no Lesser Whitethroat – after a suite of spring records in 2020, this species has reverted to being a difficult south-west Surrey bird, it seems. Other bits included three Red-legged Partridges, two Nightingales and singles of Cuckoo and Yellowhammer.

Red-legged Partridges in rapeseed.

A quick look at Snowdenham Mill Pond on the way home produced two drake Gadwall and seven Mandarin, including a female with ducklings. A drake Tufted Duck was about as well.

Wednesday 12th

Lesser Black-backed Gull and Bullfinch were notable observations from the kitchen window during the day.

Thursday 13th

It was mild with light rain during a brief look at Tuesley early on, where two Common Sandpipers were present, along with a Lesser Black-backed Gull and six Common Terns.

Friday 14th

A Kestrel flew over the garden mid-morning.

Saturday 15th

A 45-minute stakeout at Tuesley in promising conditions (rain and a south-east wind) flattered to deceive. A Yellow Wagtail over was of note – my latest spring bird in Surrey by six days – but was probably more symptomatic of this cold and slow spring than anything else. A Lesser Black-backed Gull dropped in and a couple of Swallows went through but it was otherwise quiet.

Sunday 16th

Heavy rain in the afternoon was enough to tempt me to Tuesley, where I was rewarded with a smart summer-plumaged Dunlin. It hugged the west shore in foul weather and appeared to be missing an eye, exactly like one I had here on 19 July last year. The same? Quite possibly – and amazing if so. The wonders of migration …

Dunlin action.

The rain had eased by the time I got to Frensham Great Pond for a walk with some friends. Five Hobbies hunting close to the south shore were good entertainment and a Little Egret and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls went over. Some 15 Great Crested Grebes was rather a high count count and the Mute Swan pair were keeping a close eye on their newly-fledged cygnets.

Hobbies and Little Egret.

Monday 17th

I felt for the Farncombe Swifts (of which numbers are still low) during the day as they zipped around miserably in the on and off rain and wind. 

Tuesday 18th

I met with Ken and Linda S (of Woodpecker Network fame), as well as Gerry and Graham, mid-morning for a check of some local Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nests. Results were mixed – two had been abandoned, with one apparently flooded out. However, one of the more settled pairs I’ve been watching for several weeks were in the process of laying, and Ken’s camera revealed two eggs in a recently tidied excavation. 

These birds have been perfecting this particular hole for a while now and, although this is a very late laying date, it can be explained by the cold, wet and slow spring that seems to have pushed many birds back a few weeks. Fingers crossed – it would be nice to see months of fieldwork pay off with fledged young …

Pecker action (top photo taken in April).

Wednesday 19th

A Sparrowhawk flew over Surrey Sports Park in the evening.

Thursday 20th

It was cool and grey at The Hurtwood early morning. Disappointingly I drew blanks on all three recent colonists – Dartford Warbler, Tree Pipit and Woodlark. All three have been recorded earlier in the season so perhaps the early April-like conditions were keeping them quiet … 

Two Cuckoos, including one particularly keen individual, were roving around and there was an excellent number of Garden Warblers and Whitethroats (as can be heard in the background of the below Cuckoo recording). A couple of Willow Warblers were also in voice. I heard two Bullfinches, seven Crossbills included a group of five heading west and a Siskin flew over.

Friday 21st

A Swallow flew over the garden during a very wet and windy day.

Saturday 22nd

No observations of note today!

Sunday 23rd

The Mute Swan pair at Snowdenham Mill Pond were swimming around with six cygnets, which must have hatched in the last couple of days. This species has been documented as breeding here since the 1940s but, after a successful 2014, the nest was predated in 2015. The pair then abandoned the site the following year and this is the first nesting effort since, so it’s good to see it’s been a success.

Happy Mute Swan family.

The drake Gadwall, now in rather heavy eclipse moult, was still present. A Grey Wagtail and two Tufted Duck were also about.

Monday 24th

Singles of Chiffchaff and Bullfinch were calling along the railway line near Farncombe station late afternoon.

Tuesday 25th

A very early start for the second batch of consultancy work in Birmingham city centre, with the survey highlights single flyovers of Peregrine (a female) and Grey Wagtail. Later in the day, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew over Compton village. 

Wednesday 26th

I visited Shackleford for the first time in a while early on. It was cool – even a bit chilly in the north-westerly – and quiet, though a family group of five Ravens overhead was nice to see. Five Red-legged Partridges were among the vegetation that has shot up since my last visit, no doubt helped by the heavy rainfall in recent times.

Thursday 27th

I was in the Dunsfold area mid-morning, visiting Lower Barrihurst Farm for the first time. I’ve long wanted to walk this site and thankfully access was arranged today – and what a beautiful area it was. Towering hedgerows, acres of bramble scrub and scattered trees to a backdrop of old farm machinery and lively birdsong made me feel like I was in Eastern Europe.

I was pleased to pin down a male Lesser Whitethroat, though it wasn’t singing much and was quite skulking. After a couple of years of this south-west Surrey enigma being relatively easy to locate, it seems to have reverted to type in 2021 and this is the only record I’m aware of locally this spring. Here and the wider area is the one traditional locale – a pair bred to the north at Painshill Farm in 2020 but seemingly aren’t present this year.

Lesser Whitethroat.

A Cuckoo and two Nightingales were also in voice, as well as good numbers of Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Blackcap. A Bullfinch was also heard. 

Friday 27th

I was enjoying a relaxing raptor watching session mid-morning in rather muggy, warm conditions, which had included a male Honey Buzzard among a suite of commoner species. This tranquil session was interrupted by a series of phone calls followed by killer images of nothing less than a Black Stork taken yesterday at Thursley! 

Honey Buzzard.

A county third – and the first for 31 years – this record becomes the latest in what has become almost the norm at Thursley these days: mega or local rarities captured by unwitting photographers or visitors (Short-toed Eagle from 2014; Sandwich Tern and Hen Harrier from this year etc). Colin the Cuckoo attracts 10-30 people a day, I reckon, so naturally the extra eyes and lenses will pick stuff out. And what an incredibly cool record this was – a national rarity actually touching down, albeit briefly, on the common. A mixture of both excitement and envy for Jon, the lucky observer.

I held off going for a while but eventually couldn’t resist heading to the common, even though it had almost certainly left the county (Jeremy had a stork species over Frensham some 15 minutes after the bird departed from Thursley in that direction!). I think when you’ve missed a big bird on one of your patches, even if you know it’s gone, you still feel a need to be there. I’m not sure why this is, but in a couple of hours of going through the motions on Shrike Hill and Merlin Mound I picked up the usual fare, including three Hobbies, Crossbill, five Redstarts, Kestrel, Garden Warbler and the male Curlew chasing off a Red Kite.

Later in the day, I had the privilege of watching a Goshawk nest being ringed. I found this site last year and had been keeping a close eye on it this season. Three healthy chicks – two males and a female – were swiftly processed with the adult female watching closely nearby. A truly wonderful experience and perhaps my highlight of the spring – a big thanks to Jeremy for allowing me to attend. A flyover Hawfinch nearby was a surprise as well, and a reminder that this highly elusive species is surely an under-recorded resident of outer Surrey woodland.

Young Goshawks.

Saturday 29th

I noticed a House Martin pair in the early stages of nest building in the eaves of a house in Farncombe early afternoon.

Sunday 30th

No observations of note today.

Monday 31st

A Bullfinch was calling in the garden mid-morning.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Migration at last

Although May started off how April ended, with frosty mornings and a northerly wind, it's picked up markedly during the last few days and it feels like migration proper has finally reached south-west Surrey. I find May can be a fickle month for the patchbirder, though there’s no denying it’s one of the most dynamic periods of the year – and it's safe to say the first 10 days have been decent.

Bound for the High Arctic, this tundrae Ringed Plover stopped off briefly in my little corner of Surrey.

Saturday 1st

I met Dave at Thursley early on, where May welcomed us with a hard frost and the temperature behind zero. Both with time to spare this morning, we decided to try and hit 60 species; if you leave Thursley with 50 it’s generally a very good effort. My personal best is 62 and the big day record – achieved by Dave, Doug and others in the 1990s – is 66. It started well at Pudmore, where a Green Sandpiper was flushed and a Yellow Wagtail went over. The Lapwings were still about and one of the Curlew sang distantly.

We went across Ockley next, picking up Snipe, Tree Pipit and Lesser Redpoll (the latter a bit of a bonus in May). The Birchy Pond area held a couple of Garden Warblers and a Treecreeper pair were attending a nest nearby. We knew we’d need some bonuses at Forked Pond and this proved the case, with Common Tern and Mandarin both unexpected. By now we were in the 50s and it was clear 60 would be easily achieved, so we agreed to try and break the record. Swift and Siskin fell as we hiked across the heath and up to the village.

There, where we had to be on the north side of the road to be in the recording area, we managed a suite of species otherwise hard to connect with at Thursley, including House Sparrow, Starling, Rook and Greenfinch. Mistle Thrush, Firecrest and Pied Wagtail were also added, taking us to 66. We then winded back down to Silkmill Pond where we set a new record with Great Crested Grebe. Raven and Bullfinch were also about, taking us to 69.

The record breaking species ...

We decided to walk Ockley again and were rewarded with Buzzard, Hobby, a late Meadow Pipit and Sand Martin, the latter a good Thursley bird. Elstead Common pools delivered Water Rail, which we’d missed earlier, while six Hobbies circled over Pudmore. A Grey Wagtail at the Moat made it 75 before, finally, a distant Red Kite completed the morning. All good fun and achieved by 11:30, too, with some 18 km covered in the process.

Hobby action.

In the early evening I walked Shackleford again and finally scored my first Whinchat of the year – a showy male at the north end. A Wheatear pair were about too, along with a couple of Red-legged Partridges.

Whinchat and Wheatears.

Sunday 2nd

I headed out along the river early morning, concentrating on Unstead Water Meadows. Although any signs of migration were limited (and warbler numbers still very low) it was a pleasant stroll. A brief singing Cetti’s Warbler was probably one of the Lammas Lands birds and a Little Egret low south was notable for the time of year. A Kingfisher flew upriver and a Buzzard pair seemed to be getting ready to nest in a big oak. Best of all was a singing Cuckoo – my first along this stretch of the Wey.

I headed to Shackleford next where there was no sign of the Whinchat, though a female Wheatear was knocking about. To my surprise, a (the?) Grey Partridge pair were seen again, on the west side by a bramble bush. Two of their Red-legged congeners were also around. A Cuckoo was in voice too, distantly towards Puttenham, and four Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew north. By the farm ponds, a Greylag Goose pair walked four goslings around.

Grey Partridge pair.

A quick look at Cutt Mill Ponds revealed a drake Gadwall and a Great Crested Grebe sitting on a nest, both on the House Pond. I was home for breakfast with a pleasing 54 species noted during this local circuit.

I met up with Sam later in the day. We were short of ideas so chose to do a circuit of some Low Weald backwaters, which turned out to be quite fun. A stop at Snowdenham Mill Pond first revealed drakes of Mandarin and Gadwall, as well as the sitting female Mute Swan. We headed to Painshill Farm next, where a Garden Warbler was one of the first birds heard, along with two Nightingales.

Other usual fare, such as Skylark, Red-legged Partridge, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer, were detected, before a light shower turned into a rather heavy one. Before our eyes, a male Whinchat appeared and flicked around the brambles and rapeseed fields before disappearing. Shortly after we heard a Tree Pipit, and eventually picked it up as it circled a few times before continuing on. A flyover Yellow Wagtail completed a nice trio of migrants forced down by the rain.

Whinchat and Tree Pipit dropping out the sky at Dunsfold.

A few hirundines were moving through too, including at least six Sand Martins. Eight Lesser Black-backed Gulls cruised overhead, a Raven was knocking about, a female Sparrowhawk flew east and two Cuckoos were singing. 

We moved on, checking a couple of Yellowhammer territories near Chiddingfold before exploring around Bowlhead Green. To our great surprise we picked up a Woodcock feeding on a roadside verge in broad daylight. It soon flew to nearby understory and fed in the open before eventually flushing north – amazing to see in the middle of the day. A short look at Halnaker Copse produced two Yellowhammers, Garden Warbler and Raven, before we called it a day.

Monday 3rd

I headed to Tuesley first thing in pleasantly cool conditions. Upon arrival, I espied a couple of Charadrius plovers on the far shore – LRPs, I presumed. However, a closer look revealed them to be a very dapper pair of tundrae Ringed Plovers, and they were quite relaxed as they fed on the rubber tideline. Although my third record of the species here they are rare at Tuesley, with this being something like the eighth record. A Common Tern was also about and a Grey Heron flew south.

Ringo action.

I walked Chiddingfold Forest next, where Nightingale numbers were poor – I noted only three in voice. Singles of Marsh Tit and Willow Warblers were singing, as were four Garden Warblers, and at least five Bullfinches were roving around. Two different Mistle Thrush pairs were carrying food, too. A circuit of Shackleford afterwards was quiet in the increasing wind, with the almost obligatory Wheatear (one) and Red-legged Partridge (two) of note.

Tuesday 4th

It was windy at Frensham Great Pond, where a mass of hirundines – typical in such weather – had gathered over the water with a few Swifts. Unsurprisingly, a Hobby was lurking nearby. Two Common Sandpipers were flying around the west end and briefly settled near the hotel and a male Sparrowhawk went over.

Wednesday 5th

At least three Swifts were back in the Farncombe colony, observed at different points of the day from the kitchen window.

Thursday 6th

A Little Egret flew south over the garden early morning – the second time I’ve had a flyby seemingly tracking the river in the last four days. It was cold and misty at Tuesley, where two flyover Yellow Wagtails highlighted an otherwise quiet visit.

Friday 7th

A quick look at Snowdenham Mill Pond delivered two drake Gadwall.

Saturday 8th

Mild temperatures, strong south-easterlies and heavy rain falling just before dawn on an early May morning – perfect for inland waders. I headed to Tuesley first thing and an initial scan only produced a Common Sandpiper. The second sweep, however, struck gold, with a lump of a Grey Plover sat on the north shore. 

Grey Plover in the gloom.

The bird was nervous and vocal, and immediately started flying around. Indeed, after five minutes it took off to the south, despite the foul conditions. A real treat this – a south-west Surrey lifer for me, only my second ever in the county and the second record for Tuesley (the previous coming in August 2013, which was a flyover). The light was awful and the weather really poor so the photos are shocking, but what a cracking bird (even if it wasn’t a spanking male; perhaps this was a moulting female?). 

More ropey GP shots.

A patient stakeout in the grim conditions didn’t produce anything else, save four hardy Swallows heading north, and I headed home soaked – but very satisfied. After a shower and a coffee it was back out and heading to the South-West. I am a rubbish British lister, in that I don’t go for stuff that I’ve seen in the Western Palearctic (for which I keenly keep a list). This means there are plenty of bits I just won’t travel for, unless it’s local, and so there are some obvious gaps in my national list. With WP plans written off for the second year in a row, I decided I may as well pay a bit of attention to my British list and so at the start of the year set myself a goal of 400 by the end of the year. 

And this is why I was to be spending the afternoon in Dorset. First up was Chesil Beach at Abbotsbury, where a long wait for very underwhelming views of Whiskered Tern were achieved. A low-quality encounter of a species I’ve seen lots of abroad reminded me why I don’t seriously British list! Still, it was nice to see, and singles of Little and Sandwich, and hundreds of Common Terns, meant it was a fun stakeout. A Whimbrel was about, a Wheatear knocked about on the beach.

The next stop at Cogden Beach, 10 minutes up the road, was very different – stunning, untouched Jurassic Coast, with wonderful, sloping fields down to a reedy border that held a flora-adorned pebbly beach beyond it, as big waves crashed against the shore. Lovely stuff. And the Tawny Pipit here was far more obliging, although a bit distant, as it foraged among the vegetation. The dark loral stripe was especially notable in this bird, as was the buttery yellow wash to the face and breast. Dorset is a very scenic county and, coupled with some good birds, made for a welcome away day.

Tawny Pipit at Cogden Beach.

Sunday 9th

A circuit of Shackleford in mild conditions was quiet, with a single female Wheatear in the ploughed field and a Raven passing east overhead. Four Red-legged Partridges were around, too. A quick look at Tuesley produced two Common Sandpipers, three Swifts and, most impressively, a flock of some 130 non-breeding Herring Gulls – quite a sight for this gull-less part of Surrey.

Later in the day I headed to Beddington, after news of a Temminck’s Stint broke. Upon arrival it showed really nicely on the fantastic looking 'Wet Grassland' – perhaps my best-ever views of this species in Britain. The green-yellow legs, eye-ring and dark centres to upperpart feathers were all noted as it moved slowly around islands, occasionally flushed by a Mallard or Coot, but generally settled. A lovely way to add this excellent species to my vice-county list (number 224; hopefully 225 is something special!).

Temminck's Stint at Beddington.

A few other bits were about, not least a first-summer Caspian Gull that flew in and landed in front of me. This bird has been around all winter though apparently it's been AWOL recently. It’s rather a dark bird but is structurally classic, especially the head and bill. A Yellow-legged Gull of the same age was also present, along with singles of Little Ringed Plover, Common Tern and Yellow Wagtail. A Kestrel flew over and both Cetti’s and Reed Warblers were in voice, too.

Casp and LRP.

The area the stint was on is essentially a massive scrape at present. Given the revival in the site’s birding scene, with daily, multi-observer coverage, I’m sure this grand old vice-county locale will produce a few more goodies this year. And the 'Wet Grassland' looks like the place it’ll happen – I can easily see an autumn White-rumped Sandpiper or Lesser Yellowlegs here.

Monday 10th

Swift numbers over Farncombe were up to six today.