Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Weird weather

It’s been a strange end to June, with northerlies and easterlies bringing with them a really unseasonal volume of rain and cloud. At times it’s felt more like November than high summer. I haven’t been out loads and don’t have much to report, but it shouldn’t be too long until the first trickle of waders begin to move through as the long autumn journey commences.

Juvenile Blackcap.

Tuesday 22nd

A windy and occasionally wet day with no observations of note.

Wednesday 23rd

Two days after the Summer Solstice and there were a few hints at autumn this morning. A quick check of Tuesley early on revealed a few Swifts over the reservoir, with a Sand Martin in tow – the latter is very much a species of passage locally. An impressive nine Grey Wagtails and 16 Pied Wagtails included many juveniles.

I then did a big walk at Thursley in pleasant sunshine and a gentle northerly wind. I was surprised to encounter three Teal on Pudmore – my first-ever June record of this species in Surrey. Teal breed at Thursley just about annually but are incredibly elusive. What these birds – a drake and two females – were doing here I don’t know, but there has been an unseasonal arrival of traditionally winter ducks to Surrey these past few days in the wet north-easterlies. That said, these could feasibly be breeding here … we’ll have to see if any juveniles appear in the coming weeks.

Female Teal at Pudmore.

Things were otherwise fairly quiet, with the sense that the last dregs of spring were being smoked, even if decent numbers of Willow Warblers were in voice, as well as two Tree Pipits. Juvenile Robins, Redstarts, Magpies, Woodlarks and Blue and Coal Tits were being fed by adults and a Siskin flew over.

Some 35 or more Swifts quietly hawked over Pudmore, presumably some form of movers during the recent winds. A silent, second-year male Cuckoo on Ockley Common gave the impression of a southbound, departing bird (Beachy Head has already logged return migrants this week!).

Cuckoo and Jay.

Sadly I didn’t hear or see a Curlew. Since my last sighting on 14 June (when the adults were thought to still be tending to their one chick) there have been no reports. I feared for the youngster during the exceptionally heavy rain on Friday and I suspect it’s perished, with the adults abandoning the site. A Curlew reported at Tice’s Meadow on Monday perhaps supports this sad theory. Hopefully there is a sighting in the coming weeks, but my gut tells me it’ll be a good eight months before that evocative sound fills the Thursley air again.

Thursday 24th

Another mild and bright morning. I headed to Sidney Wood, where life was seemingly everywhere – family parties and recently fledged youngsters were logged for 12 different species and I racked up some decent counts of common woodland birds as a result (35 Blue Tits, 20 Song Thrushes, 15 Blackcaps, 18 Wrens etc). Very nice.

Among the more unusual observations was a male Hobby, vocalising often and carrying food near a suitable looking block of pines. Perhaps there was a female sitting nearby … At least three, but perhaps up to five, Spotted Flycatchers was a decent haul and included two right by the car park. Singles of Nightingale and Willow Warbler, three Bullfinches and a notably high figure of seven Marsh Tits – including a pair feeding a juvenile – were also seen, as well as a family troop of Garden Warblers.


On the way back I had a quick look at Snowdenham Mill Pond. Curiously, the Mute Swan family were nowhere to be seen. Seven Mandarin, four Tufted Duck and a Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid were at the far end.

Friday 25th

While working from home the Firecrest, first heard singing a few gardens down on 15th, was audible again from the kitchen window.

Saturday 26th

A leisurely lunchtime stroll around Chiddingfold Forest failed to produce any early Purple Emperors, though I did enjoy at least six White Admirals and my first Marbled White of the year, as well as a late Wood White and a Common Lizard. Bird activity was unsurprisingly low, though I heard a singing Spotted Flycatcher and calling Marsh Tit and saw a recently fledged juvenile Blackcap.

Sunday 27th

No observations of note today.

Monday 28th

It felt like late November this morning – gloomy with fog, drizzle and a gentle north-easterly wind. I decided to check Tuesley and was rewarded with a site first: four Teal (two pairs) nervously swimming around the south end. You simply don’t get dabbling ducks here so, even if this was in the winter, it’d be impressive, but it’s a truly nuts record for June. I’d love to know where they’d come from … 

Tuesday 29th

Another wet and dull day. A pair of House Sparrows were carrying food to a nest in our gutter throughout the morning.

Wednesday 30th

I was lucky enough to witness an Alpine Swift being released back into the wild at Leatherhead late morning. This bird – only the 10th for Surrey and first since 2005 – was found exhausted in Cheam on 22nd and taken into care at Wildlife Aid. I tried to arrange a public release so that lots of people could enjoy it, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. The bird took little time in flying free and, after a short circuit, powered south. 

Alpine Swift.

A full story with better photos than mine (and footage) will be on BirdGuides tomorrow [1 July]. The 'tickability' of a bird like this is both trivial and subjective in such circumstances but, given it occurred naturally in Surrey, I saw it in the wild and have seen the species many times before (including in Britain), then I think it makes a nice 225th addition to my vice-county list. It's just a shame more people couldn't enjoy it ...

Monday, 21 June 2021

Breeding codes

It’s high summer in south-west Surrey. This naturally means bird action drops off a bit but keeping tabs on breeders – especially nests – is at a peak, with the season-long study of some rarer species coming to a conclusion. The weather has been largely nice as well – I think the delayed spring has meant June has felt a little more like May than it normally would. And with other interests coming to the fore it’s been a relaxed and enjoyable couple of weeks.

Adult Hawfinch feeding a recently fledged juvenile.

Tuesday 8th

It was a sunny and warm again as I headed to a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nest I’d located not long ago in a dead silver birch. There, an excavation containing three young was busily being attended too by the adult pair. It’s been a mixed season of 'pecker study in truth, with three of the five nests found failing. Still, this was a nice end to the fieldwork (with a happy postscript that all three youngsters successfully fledged). A bit more information here.

Tiny pecker action. Last photo thanks to Ken and Linda Smith.

I then headed to Thursley Common where I enjoyed a glorious stroll in the sunshine, with life seemingly everywhere. This included plenty of recent fledglings, such as Chiffchaffs, Dartford Warblers, Great Tits, Nuthatches and Woodlarks. Best of all, though, was a young Curlew chick, which was being chaperoned by the adults on Ockley Common, with the male periodically chasing off Carrion Crows.

Young Chiffchaffs and a Curlew chasing off a Carrion Crow.

Snipe and Water Rail were heard-only, Crossbill and Siskin flew over (as did a feral Barnacle Goose!) and a Hobby was perched on a small pine near French Ditch. At North Wood, a singing male Spotted Flycatcher was serenading a nearby female in an area of open mixed woodland. I’ve not had this species at this part of the common before. Nearby, a particularly loud Willow Warbler was in voice.

Other bits included food-carrying Skylark and Whitethroat, a ‘new’ Tree Pipit territory near Cricklestones and a Bullfinch at North Wood. Lovely stuff, with 54 species notched up by the end of the walk.

Tree Pipit, Dartford Warbler and Stonechat.

Wednesday 9th

A Sparrowhawk flew over Farncombe mid-afternoon.

Thursday 10th

I met up with Dave at Thursley a little before 9 pm to look for Nightjars. It was surprisingly breezy and grey which hampered sound recording, but didn’t deter the birds, which began vocalising at 9.35 pm. In total, we had at least six churring and wing-clapping males and a calling female, as well as nice flight views near Will Reeds. 

A Snipe drummed and sang briefly on South Bog and a male Woodcock was roding over Parish Field and Will Reeds, too. A nice, atmospheric evening, that also included a Hobby hawking over Pudmore at dusk and a Stonechat in song an hour after sunset.

Friday 11th

I walked Shackleford farmland before work and notched up 30 species, two of which were notable for the time of year: Lesser Black-backed Gull and Ring-necked Parakeet. The former I’m seeing far more than usual this summer. I’m not sure why this is. As for the parakeets, this is surely a sign of the impending (and overdue) green invasion of south-west Surrey … Other bits included four Red-legged Partridges, Whitethroats and Skylarks carrying food and my first juvenile Woodpigeon of the year.

Saturday 12th

Late at night, a Moorhen was calling as it flew over Farncombe.

Sunday 13th

A few House Martins were flying over Godalming town centre early afternoon. Up to 12 Swifts were hawking over the garden in the evening.

Monday 14th

It was warm early on at Thursley, with bird activity a little subdued, especially a couple of hours into the morning. The Curlew pair were acting rather agitated around Pudmore, though I couldn’t see their chick. Presumably it was hiding safely out of sight. A Snipe sang from the east end, three different female Mallards escorted ducklings around and three Crossbills flew over South Bog.

The Shrike Hill male Redstart was back in full voice, so it was no surprise to see two recently fledged youngsters a little further up the path – presumably from his first brood. Other new youngsters included three Rooks and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers (with their parents). A female Linnet was carrying nest material on Ockley Common, where a small party of Swifts hawked overhead, a Grey Wagtail flew over, a Cuckoo sang and a Nightjar briefly churred a little after 7.30 am.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redstart fledgling, Dartford Warbler, Linnet and Swift.

Tuesday 15th

In the morning, from the kitchen window, a Firecrest was heard singing a few gardens down – only the second time I’ve recorded this species from home.

Wednesday 16th

It was warm and bright with a little haze when I visited Winkworth Arboreutm for the first time in a few months early morning. It was rather quiet, with 32 species a little below average for this time of year. On Rowe’s Flashe, both Little Grebe and Canada Geese had young, and there were three each of drake Mandarin and Tufted Duck. A Marsh Tit called near the boathouse and a male Grey Wagtail was collecting food nearby.

Little Grebe and Canada Geese.

At my next site, I was both surprised and delighted to stumble upon an adult Hawfinch feeding a recently fledged chick. A series of curious calls had alerted me to the birds, which were high in a cherry tree, with the adult on constant feeding duty. I watched from a careful distance for some time, with the birds oblivious to my presence, before heading off.

What an amazing encounter – this nationally rare breeder is notoriously hard to study in the breeding season, so to get up close and personal with a juvenile and adult was quite incredible. There is no doubt this species is a very low-level – but annual – breeder in the poorly-visited woodlands of south-west Surrey. So, it was great to actually confirm this …

Hawfinch action.

On the way home, a quick stop at Snowdenham Mill Pond produced the Mute Swan family party still with all six cygnets, a Grey Wagtail and a five Mandarin.

Thursday 17th

I visited Tuesley for the first time in a while in the morning. The weather had broken down overnight and it was hazy and drizzly, but still mild. One of the rafts had sadly become detached so all the Black-headed Gulls were crammed onto one, though they seem to be having a best-ever year – one well-developed youngster was about, as well as four chicks not long off the raft, plus at least four still by their nests and a sitting adult. Family groups of both Grey and Pied Wagtails were pottering around the shore.

Friday 18th

No observations of note during an unseasonal day of heavy rain.

Saturday 19th

I met up with Sam late morning for a casual amble around the Low Weald countryside near Loxhill and Hambledon. The weather was a bit miserable for June – a cool north-easterly wind with intermittent light drizzle and gloomy, full cloud cover. Despite that, Cuckoo, Firecrest and a few Yellowhammers were in voice, where a female Siskin and three Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew over – the latter always of note out here in the sticks, especially so in the summer. We also enjoyed a Nightingale pair taking food into a nest of noisy chicks, a mixed Willow Warbler singer and a Little Owl perched in an oak tree at a site Sam had found a couple of months back.

Sunday 20th

A Ring-necked Parakeet over the garden was a surprise in the morning – only my second record here in five years and just the seventh I’ve ever had in south-west Surrey away from Shackleford.

Monday 21st

Another wet and miserable day with nothing to report.

Monday, 7 June 2021

Out and about

An upturn in the weather has coincided with a late surge of spring migration in Britain, meaning there's been good reason to get out and about during the past week. This has mainly been local, although a couple of trips further afield have added to a dynamic and fun start to June. The weather looks settled for the foreseeable so hopefully an air of normality can resume among breeding birds as well.

Redstart carrying food at Thursley.

Tuesday 1st

It was a lovely, warm early summer morning and, with the wind just hanging in the south-east, it was time for a proper field session. I headed to Thursley where, over four hours and some 11km, I racked up 53 species, which was pretty good for June. The clear highlight came not long after 7 am when a Turtle Dove flew east over Spur Wood and Francis Copse – my first for the site. It seems very likely this bird was a late migrant – high-flying early in the morning – and a light passage of Swallows during the course of the morning backed up the idea that there are still migrants to arrive. No surprise after the wet and cold spring we’ve endured up to this point … 

Pudmore was fairly quiet, save the male Curlew patrolling and four Tufted Duck. A Water Rail called towards Birchy Pond. Young Stonechats and Blue Tits were noted, as was a Willow Warbler carrying food at Francis Copse – a Redstart pair were doing the same near Shrike Hill, too. Woodlarks seemed to be at all stages of breeding – plenty of singing males (presumably on second broods), a family party near Circklestones and one bird building a nest! Unseasonal Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls cruised over and, by the time I was wrapping things up, a few Common Lizards were basking in the sunshine.

Wednesday 2nd

With the wind still in the south-east I opted for Thursley again, undertaking a similar route but this time tallying 55 species. Notable bits that weren’t seen yesterday included a singing Snipe on West Bog – perhaps enough evidence this species is breeding here – and a Crossbill over Ockley Common, as well as Hobby and Little Grebe. A Water Rail was at Pudmore.

The Redstart pair were again busy feeding young. While looking unsuccessfully for their nest I inadvertently located a Dunnock brood, low to the ground and being fed by adults. A Canada Goose pair had four goslings on Pylon Pool – I can’t actually remember this species breeding here successfully before.

Female Redstart.

In the evening I spent a bit of time with a reeling male Grasshopper Warbler. This bird, present a few weeks now, is seemingly unpaired and is singing frequently and at all hours of the day. A shame, as this breeding site – the only one in the vice-county – has produced young in each of the past two years. Hopefully he finds a mate …


Thursday 3rd

I finished work a little early so decided to have an amble around Thorncombe Street. At Snowdenham Mill Pond, the Mute Swan pair still had all six cygnets and were keeping close to them at the south end. Four each of Mandarin and Tufted Duck were present, along with one Coot with six small chicks and another sitting on a nest.

I then headed down to the south end and enjoyed an immensely peaceful amble up and down the lane along Great Brook and Selhurst Common. I’d love to live in one of the cottages here – there were birds everywhere, many singing or carrying food to hungry youngsters. This site has been super reliable for Spotted Flycatcher ever since I started patching Thorncombe Street in 2014, but last year the main wisteria was cut down and they became tricky. So, it was a nice surprise to locate at least one bird (but probably two) in more or less the same area, singing occasionally and flitting from tree to tree.

Spotted Flycatcher.

A Firecrest was singing, a couple of Siskins flew over and a Marsh Tit was carrying food. A brief bit of Cuckoo song was heard to the north and two Red-legged Partridges were about, while an adult Treecreeper was seen with a recent fledgling. A Grey Wagtail was a little further along the lane towards Goose Green. A fine summer stroll indeed.

Marsh Tit.

Friday 4th

Typically it was raining on my day off, so I had a lazy start and decided to head down to Pagham mid-morning. Given the precipitation, I staked out Church Norton from the hide for a few hours, where I saw not a soul. For the most part it was quiet – three Sanderlings, a Whimbrel, four Dunlin, seven Turnstone and a drake Gadwall were noted, as well as the usual Little and Sandwich Terns. A Mediterranean Gull – one of 72 counted – was sitting with a chick on Tern Island and a Lesser Whitethroat sang from a thicket beside the hide. Two Shelduck pairs brought their youngsters up onto the footpath before quickly retreating to the water when they saw me.

Shelduck action.

I was about to head off when, to my surprise, I picked up a Roseate Tern, distantly on the exposed mud south-east of Tern Island. As soon as I went for the camera it flew – typical, I thought. Thankfully though I relocated it and it was with a second bird! Very nice and, despite the distance, the pale plumage, all-dark bill and bright red legs could be seen.

Distant Roseate Terns.

This isn’t a species I see often (only my third record, ever) and once I put the news out a few folks arrived to see them. Reward for patience, I thought, and for persevering in the rain … also my ninth tern species on the Selsey Peninsula!

I headed to the Ferry area next which was quiet, save a few Avocet on Ferry Pool and a single Curlew in Ferry Channel. It was a bit livelier at North Wall, where two smart Cattle Egrets were flying in and out of Owl Copse. I remember when Pagham was the place to go for Little Egret, but nowadays it’s their peachy congeners who steal the show. A Cuckoo sang nearby, Reed Warblers far outnumbered Sedges and a Hobby flew low east over the fields. Some 70 species in all and a decent half-day out.

Peaches and cream.

Saturday 5th

A quick look at Snowdenham Mill Pond in the morning revealed that the Mute Swan pair still had all six cygnets. A Gadwall pair, the drake in heavy moult, were also about, along with one of the Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrids and three Tufted Duck. Later, a Reed Warbler was rather incongruously singing in a bush at Tongham services. 

In the afternoon in Felpham, at my parents’, a Painted Lady visited the garden briefly. Two Mediterranean Gulls flew east and a Blackbird pair were tending to a well-developed youngster.

Painted Lady.

Sunday 6th

A long but memorable day out. It started early, and two male Tawny Owls were audible from my drive when Matt picked me up not long after 3.45 am. With Abel and Sam in tow, we got to our destination – Ham Wall in Somerset – about an hour after first light. And we were soon enjoying the spectacular sight and sound of the male River Warbler that has been holding fort here since 4th.

River Warbler action.

It’s been more than a decade since a twitchable bird was on the mainland and the setting and experience for a lifer was perfect – it was absolutely going for it with it’s bizarre song and sitting out on willow brush at close range. As we watched, several Great Egrets and Marsh Harriers flew over, with other songsters including Bittern, Water Rail and Cetti’s, Reed and Sedge Warblers. We eventually peeled away, checking out other parts of the reserve where two Pochard broods were noted, along with a late drake Wigeon. We’d managed some 51 species by the time we left.

Next up was a site where, after a bit of patience and scanning, we were treated to an incredible encounter with a male Montagu’s Harrier – one of a tiny handful in Britain this summer. This species is on the verge of extinction from our isles, so to see it twisting and turning as it displayed above our heads was a breath-taking moment that left us all in awe, even if it was a little distant. One of my favourite species without a doubt …

Monty's on patrol and in display.

We then headed to an area on Salisbury Plain where the Great Bustard reintroduction project is taking place. Here, we counted seven birds, including a couple of males in full, spectacular display. Around us Yellow Wagtails busily fed youngsters, 25 or more Corn Buntings sang and Lapwings mobbed anything that flew over. We also noted both Grey and Red-legged Partridge, singing Meadow Pipit and Wall Brown.

With news that Britain’s eighth Red-necked Stint was still in Northumberland coming through early in the morning, a plan had already been hatched to take the long journey north. Car observations included Peregrine and some 35 Lapwings near Basingstoke, and a flock of 16 Golden Plovers near Leeming in North Yorkshire. Arrival time at Blyth Estuary was just after 6 pm, having gone through the trauma of news of the bird flying off about 45 minutes beforehand!

Thankfully the Red-necked Stint had returned and, while initially distant, it eventually flew over the river and landed on the south shore, allowing for great – albeit not the closest – ‘scope views of a truly stunning little wader, all the way from East Asia. The brick red face and upperparts glowed in the warm evening light as it fed busily with a flock of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin. My photos were poor so included is a link to a shot my colleague Josh took earlier in the day, when he and several others enjoyed it down to a few metres …

Distant stint action.

Easily one of the best birds I’ve seen in Britain and a Western Palearctic mega to boot. This is the first Red-necked Stint to grace the UK since 2010, and the first twitchable one since 2001. It’s also the first time a spring adult has turned up ...

It was hard to take your eyes off the Red-necked Stint, but other bits included a Little Stint (which was side-by-side with the Red-necked briefly), a female Eider with four ducklings, a Curlew, a singing Meadow Pipit, 12 redhead Goosander feeding in the river mouth and a Common Tern patrolling the water. A knackering but superb day out …

Goosander on the Blyth.

Monday 7th

A Bullfinch was calling in the garden at lunchtime.