Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Saturday, 31 July 2021

Long, wet summer

Like most of the month – and indeed much of the spring and summer – the end of July was a bit of a washout. The weather has barely been able to string together more than a few days of settled warmth in 2021. Water levels are very high for this time of year and one wonders if there will be flooding issues to contend with come the winter. For now, though, here’s hoping for some more typical autumn conditions in the weeks ahead – and hopefully some fun migration to boot.

A Balearic Shearwater in Cornwall.

Friday 23rd

It was fairly quiet at the Pagham Harbour North Wall in the morning, with 49 species logged during an hour-and-a-half. Juvenile Marsh Harrier and Yellow-legged Gull were nice to see, along with seven Cattle Egrets (including two juveniles) in Owl Copse, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and good numbers of Whimbrel and Curlew. Two Common Terns and a Teal were at Breach Pool, where a female Yellow Wagtail – apparently the first on the peninsula this autumn – dropped into the reedbed.

Saturday 24th

A long journey down to Cornwall was broken up by a stop-off in Dartmoor at Yarner Wood. A short stroll was unsurprisingly quiet, though no fewer than nine Spotted Flycatchers included three family parties. A brief female-type Pied Flycatcher – this species breeds in numbers here – was also seen, along with Willow Warbler, two Bullfinches and three Siskins

There was time for an evening session at the beautiful Kenidjack Valley, where a Western Bonelli’s Warbler had conveniently been found the previous day. It took some locating among the many warblers, which included my first lemony juvenile Willows of the year, but eventually showed, albeit briefly. My first British record of this smart Phylloscopus. A Sedge Warbler was also noted, along with two Bullfinches, six Chough and a juvenile Green Woodpecker that drank quietly from a spring.

Juvenile Green Woodpecker.

Sunday 25th

Following a fairly leisurely start, we headed to Portscatho for a scenic walk along the South-West Coast Path under warm blue skies. The highlight was four Cirl Buntings, which included three males (one singing) and a juvenile. I hadn’t seen this South-West speciality since 2018 and these were my first in Britain away from Labrador Bay. 

Other bits included two Rock Pipits, Stonechat, family parties of Greenfinch and Whitethroat, a male Sparrowhawk and a couple of Gannets offshore. A Green-veined White was among the many butterflies noted. Lunch was had looking out at Restronguet Creek, where decent numbers of waders included a female Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper and four Whimbrel. A Peregrine flew over and two Little Grebes were on the River Kennall.

We had a boat trip out of Penzance booked for the afternoon. In glorious weather it was unsurprisingly quiet bird-wise (quite a contrast to my 2017 pelagic) but there was lots to keep us entertained, not least two pods of Common Dolphins, including a group of 25 animals that gave superb views around the boat.

Common Dolphins.

Avian action was highlighted by a brief visit from a Balearic Shearwater. Some 246 Manx Shearwaters were counted, while other species included a few Fulmars and Kittiwakes, Mediterranean Gull, Guillemot and four Yellow-legged Gulls (three juveniles and a second-summer). Another juvenile YLG was in Penzance harbour along with a couple of summer-plumaged Turnstones.

Balearic Shearwater, Yellow-legged Gull, Fulmar and Manx Shearwater.

Monday 26th

Another lazy start, then to Pendeen for a casual seawatch. Again a single Balearic Shearwater highlighted, in with a decent movement of Manx Shearwaters that tallied 754. Some 28 Kittiwakes, seven Mediterranean Gulls, 29 Fulmars, two Razorbills, four Guillemots and four Ringed Plovers were logged on the move too. Two each of Chough, Raven and Rock Pipit were also noted, along with a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull and 30 Shags.

On the drive home from an all too short weekend away, a Peregrine flew over the A303 near Honiton and a Corn Bunting was perched beside the same road near Stonehenge.

Tuesday 27th

An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull flew over Farncombe with two juveniles in tow late morning – impressively, this species has bred in the village this year after a failed effort in 2020. Quite a notable Surrey record …

Wednesday 28th

An increasingly breezy westerly greeted me at Tuesley where, yet again, there was no wader. July is the peak month for this site and last year, by this date, I’d enjoyed 21 records of seven waders species. This year, I’ve only had six records of four species. The most telling absence is Common Sandpiper – nine records versus one. I’m pretty sure the heavy rain this summer means the high water level is undesirable for passing shorebirds.

Anyway, despite a lack of long-legged beasts a fetching juvenile Mediterranean Gull was a delight to see – only my second-ever here and third locally this year. It was quite relaxed, allowing me to enjoy the beautifully scalloped upperparts and light sooty tones to the plumage. A Lesser Black-backed Gull also flew over.

Mediterranean Gull.

I headed to Shackleford next for another ringing session with Steve. It felt rather autumnal here – Skylarks had flocked up, groups of Canada Geese were feeding on the recently cut fields and the apple tree – a favourite of the winter Fieldfares – was bearing fruit. Three juvenile Reed Buntings were a surprise for July, too, as they worked along the Lone Barn margins. One even ended up in the nets later on. They can’t have come far, but who knows where they were born …

Reed Bunting action. The top two photos are of the same bird.

We caught 31 birds from eight species in all, including a Wren, three Whitethroats, four Chiffchaffs and 16 Goldfinches. Other bits included heard-only Little Owl and Ring-necked Parakeet, a Coal Tit along Hook Lane (rare here, this being my first of the year!), two Ravens and 35 Swifts tracking south-west along the North Downs.

Juvenile Wren.

In the evening, I heard a couple of Swifts from home, though the noise is much reduced in recent days and I suspect many of the Farncombe colony have departed south.

Thursday 29th

Another breezy visit to Tuesley, where a surprise Little Egret flew low south over the entrance – only my second here and always of note locally in the summer period. Two adult Redshanks – still largely in summer dress – were on the far shore and a real joy to see after such a slow wader month here. I spent a bit of time admiring these delicate beauties.

A male Sparrowhawk whizzed over the polytunnels, spooking up some 48 Pied Wagtails – another 15 (at least) were on the reservoir, making for a very high count indeed (10 Grey Wagtails were also notable). A relatively lively session was concluded by the juvenile Mediterranean Gull wafting in from the north before settling on the water.

Med Gull.

Friday 30th

At Tuesley in showery and windy conditions more akin to November, the Mediterranean Gull was still about, but it was otherwise quiet. At Snowdenham Mill Pond, I was pleased to see all six Mute Swan cygnets nearly fully-grown. The dark female Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid was also present, along with 11 Mandarin, two Tufted Duck and two first-year Grey Herons.

Saturday 31st

I visited The Hurtwood for the first time in a couple of months, in a cool south-westerly. A trickle of Swifts flew west and – to my surprise – a Little Owl was calling from fields to the north. At least four Siskins were knocking about as well as my first local Crossbill since 14 June. I wonder if it will be a poor winter for the latter species. At least two Willow Warblers were probably birds that bred here.  

Later that morning, Peter called with news of an interesting yet unidentified warbler at Shackleford. I managed to get down there eventually and, after a very long wait, the bird gave itself up: a Grasshopper Warbler. It only showed twice more, being typically skulking and hard to view, but the yellowish wash to the underparts allowed it to be aged as a juvenile. 

This is a doubtless a regular passage migrant in south-west Surrey but is very rarely seen when on migration. Hopefully, this signalled the start of a productive autumn locally. Two each of Raven and Kestrel were also noted, as well as a Reed Bunting.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Warm weather wanderings

An arrival of warm weather, an end to the European Championships and a few days off work has meant I’ve been out and about a fair bit during the last 10 days. I was supposed to be in the French Alps the week after the Euros, but unfortunately that plan dissolved a while ago. However, I’ve filled the time with a mish-mash of birding and butterfly ventures and, to be honest, it’s been quite fun.

Spoonbill at Kilnsea Wetlands.

Tuesday 13th

It was third time lucky with the Black-browed Albatross, which was flying around the cliffs at Bempton upon by arrival not long before 7.30 pm. It did a few circuits before eventually landing in among area of presumed non-breeding Gannets, where it bedded down for the night. We struggled to pull ourselves away from this awe-inspiring beast – it was absolutely huge, dwarfing the Gannets, with dark black upperparts, peachy-orange bill, prominent 'eye shadow' and fleshy legs all seen. 


This individual, an adult, has been present this year on and off since 28 June, the third summer it's visited Bempton following much briefer stop-offs in 2017 and 2020. Albatrosses are iconic birds and I’d not previously seen one anywhere, and Black-browed is one of the most desirable species on the British list. In all, a wonderful animal and at a glorious location. This will go down as one of the – if not my outright – best birds I’ve seen in Britain.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to other birds, but Oystercatcher and Yellowhammer were new species for me at this site (thanks eBird!). In Bridlington later in the evening, it was nice to see a small colony of Kittiwakes on a building in the town centre near Cliff Road.


Wednesday 14th

We couldn’t resist another look at the albatross early in the morning. Compared to the sunshine of last night things were quite different, with a stiff north-westerly and fog. However, I still ogled at the bird for a good 45 minutes as it sat on the cliff, in a slightly different spot to last night. A Rock Pipit was also of note before we departed.

Somehow during my birding life I’ve never visited the Spurn peninsula. Being so close, we figured it made sense to take a look. On the way, between East End and Winestead, a male Marsh Harrier was quartering a crop field. Upon arriving at the tip of the peninsula, I chose to spend time at Kilnsea Wetlands, which was a cracking site. Among the highlights were four Spoonbills, including one showy adult. These were only my fifth Spoonbills in Britain (still need for Surrey!), but the most cooperative for sure.

Spoonbill action.

An unseasonal drake Scaup was knocking about, as well as some 24 Little Gulls – all adults, and looking very smart too. An adult Mediterranean Gull also flew through, a decent bird here (confirmed by the reaction of locals!). Other bits included two Dunlin, 50 Ringed Plovers, 35 Redshank (all adults), 30 or more Little Terns, one Pochard, two female Teal with ducklings, a couple of Yellow Wagtails, some recently fledged Reed Warblers. Not bad, and some minor consolation for not being in France this week …

Little Gulls and Scaup.

On the way back north, another – or the same – male Marsh Harrier was quartering near Patrington. A pit-stop to get better views also produced a heard-only Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrows.

Thursday 15th

It was warm and bright at Tuesley early on, where a Tufted Duck with six small ducklings was a surprise – she must have walked them here from wherever the nest was! A noisy Common Tern juvenile was probably born at Enton. A female Kestrel flew over and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull dropped in.

Lesser Black-backed Gull and Common Terns.

I was about to leave, when I heard a familiar tyeu tyeu tyeu from the blue skies above. Eventually I saw the elegant shape of a Greenshank circling over the water. It flew around a bit, landed on the west side and took off again, before settling at the east end. It clearly wasn’t happy, though, and soon bombed high south-west … what a stunner – Greenshanks are one of my favourite waders and this little slice of migration in action was a fine example of what local birding is all about.

I then headed to Shackleford, a site I hadn’t visited for just over a month. A couple of Ring-necked Parakeets were in the village, but these were severely outclassed by another introduced species: Little Owl. Three, to be precise, an adult pair and a well-developed juvenile. This species has become so elusive locally in recent years, so proof of breeding was pleasing.

Little Owls.

Other bits included a Garden Warbler (rare here) in one of the margins, young Whitethroats and Skylarks, a Red-legged Partridge and three Red Kites

Later in the morning, we headed to Knepp. It was my first visit since 2016 and the place was a lot more ‘professional’ looking now, with crowds to boot. Butterflies were on the agenda and we scored at least 10 Purple Emperors, though views were generally suboptimal in the breezy north-westerly. Some 11 other species included my first Gatekeeper of the year.

Purple Emperor and Speckled Wood.

Unsurprisingly for a hot, middle of the day walk in mid-July, bird activity was at a premium. Singles of Nightingale and Garden Warbler were heard calling, a Kingfisher, two Reed Warblers and a Great Crested Grebe family were on the Hammer Pond, a Little Owl was vocalising near the visitor centre and nine White Storks – the flagship, introduced species here – included three juveniles on a nest. Indeed, with the storks flying around, the heat and the wild, untamed landscape, it felt for a short while like I was somewhere in south-east Europe.

In the afternoon at my parents in Felpham, two Mediterranean Gulls flew over the garden. Nearby at my grandparents’ later on, a male Sparrowhawk was cruising around.

Friday 16th

I met with Steve this morning to try out Shackleford for some ringing. We set up two nets and, during a three-hour session, caught 14 birds. These included juvenile Chiffchaff and Whitethroat and three Goldfinches. Other bits noted included two of yesterday’s Little Owls, two smart juvenile Kestrels, a Red-legged Partridge and two Bullfinches. A family party of Weasels was a real surprise and very nice to see, while butterfly action included Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell and Marbled White.

Goldfinch and Chiffchaff.

Saturday 17th

The first Common Sandpiper of the autumn was at Tuesley early on, some nine days later than last year. The young Common Tern and Tufted Duck family were still about, too. Afterwards, a tranquil walk of Unstead Water Meadows was fairly quiet, though my first Garden Warbler at this site this year was in song along the tow path. Other bits included two Reed Warblers, a family party of Swallows, a singing Reed Bunting and two Swifts.

Later in the day, we walked a 12 km circuit of the Chidham peninsula in the hot middle of the day period. Birding was a casual affair on this walk but I still noted a decent 52 species, including an adult Yellow-legged Gull in the Cutmill Creek roost. I have had a few juvenile YLGs here down the years, but in fact today there was not a single first-year large gull of any species.

Yellow-legged Gull.

Other bits included four Whimbrel, seven Dunlin, 60 Curlew, a family party of Shelduck, three Yellowhammers, a male Sparrowhawk and, rather bizarrely, a Black Swan, in with 44 of its Mute congeners.

Black Swan.

Sunday 18th

I was pleased to note juvenile House Martins on the wing over Farncombe in the morning.

Monday 19th

A hot day working from home was punctuated by a vocal flyover Red Kite at midday.

Tuesday 20th

It was already warm at Tuesley by 6.20 am, where I was surprised to see a juvenile Lapwing on the far shore. This is pretty much a rarity here now – gone are the four-figure flocks I used to see in the big fields during winter lifts to school in the mid-2000s; this is in fact my first record here since those days. It’s been quite a poor year for Lapwing locally but, impressively, it’s my 10th wader species at Tuesley this year ...


Only my third-ever Tuesley Kingfisher was a surprise as it zipped through – presumably from Busbridge Lakes. Other bits included the female Tufted Duck, who had lost one duckling and a Swallow being mobbed by a Pied Wagtail

Wednesday 21st

I got to Unstead SF for the July WeBS count early on to avoid another hot morning. It was relatively quiet – a young Black-headed Gull (the first breeding at this site) and a family of Little Grebes were on Dry Lagoon, with a Reed Warbler and juvenile Kestrel lurking nearby. Two Mandarin were on Flooded Field, where a Kingfisher flew up the Wey.

In the evening, Abel and I headed to the ARC section of Witley Common for some Nightjar action. They delivered in style - at least six birds, including four churring and wing-clapping males, and two females. We enjoyed a series of close fly-bys, including two that flew over the nearly full moon, creating a truly atmospheric image. Epic stuff.

Thursday 22nd

A lunchtime walk across the Lammas Lands produced heaps of Whitethroats – at least 12, including many juveniles. It’s clearly been a great breeding season for them here. Three or more Reed Buntings were about and included one juvenile, a male Stonechat was kicking about and a Kingfisher flew upriver.

Honeys and groppers

I’ve managed to chalk off a few rare breeder goals in recent years – find a Goshawk pair, locate a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nest hole etc. Finding a pair of Honey Buzzards is another level up and has taken up a fair bit of my time this year. Of course, this species needs the greatest level of protection and so I have to be vague (indeed I don’t mention my honey efforts too much). Below are some shots of summer HB action, including a few from the past 10 days. 

Four different male Honey Buzzards. The top bird is a gorgeous, chocolate-coloured
dark morph. There has been some debate about its sex, but I think it's a male.

Double honey.

Grasshopper Warbler was a shock breeding discovery locally in 2019. Unfortunately, this year the male seemed to be unpaired and is thought to have abandoned efforts in early June. So, I was most surprised to locate a reeling male at a different site recently. I followed this up and discovered at least one juvenile too, confirming breeding.

If, for me, 2020 was about rare local birds, 2021 has been about rare local breeding species. It’s been great fun and is a form of birding I hope to pursue for many years. There is much that we don’t know about rare and elusive breeders, which can be right under our noses!

Monday, 12 July 2021

Further adventures in weird weather

This introduction is pretty much a copy and paste job from my last post – unseasonal weather during high summer, with freakish amounts of rain, and not loads of time in the field. That said, the odd bit of breeding action, butterfly hunting and hints of early autumn movement have been good value. Indeed, a a session on the first morning of the month was excellent. And of course, any time outside is time well spent!

The magic of migration ... a group of Shelduck moving over
Thursley Common, as autumn begins this month.

Thursday 1st

A cracking morning of birding before work, with 63 species seen by the time I was home. There was a whiff of autumn in the air with a light dew on the ground and, sure enough, a first proper sign of the seasonal shift greeting me at Tuesley – two dapper summer-plumaged Redshank on the far sure. Weirdly enough I had two here on the exact date last year … unusually for this species they were settled, clearly quite tired after a journey from northern breeding grounds. My first of the year locally, too.

The start of autumn in avian form.

I then headed to Thursley, checking Pudmore first where the excitedly nervous call of a Green Sandpiper pierced the misty air. Another most autumnal sign. Water Rail and Snipe were also logged, the latter a surprise flight view of a bird carrying food – a nice way to confirm that hungry chicks must be nearby. I heard further Snipe and Water Rail on Ockley later on.

The sighting of the morning came at 6.50 am. I had been sifting through a Swift flock that were hawking over Shrike Hill when a stratospherically high-flying group of birds caught my eye. To my great surprise they were Shelduck – the last thing you’d expect at a Surrey heath during high summer. They powered north-east, perhaps on a long journey to Wadden Sea moulting grounds. Very cool indeed, and only the ninth record of this species here, which was last recording in 2014.

Shelduck on a long, unknown journey.

Other bits included both Kestrel and Sparrowhawk in flight and recently fledged Stonechat and Redstarts. Two of the latter showed nicely around Bunting Bushes. The Elstead Common Tree Pipit was still in near-continuous song, as he has been since he took up territory in May. It has been a very poor year for this species here and presumably this bird is unpaired.

I gave Frensham Great Pond a quick look afterwards, in the unlikely event the Alpine Swift had found its way there. It hadn’t, unsurprisingly, but one Kingfisher, two Sand Martins, five Common Terns and a Reed Warbler were good value, as was my first singing Skylark at this site.

Friday 2nd

I made sure to eBird a House Martin visiting eaves in Farncombe in the morning – when looking through my June records, I realised I saw this species once during the entire month! This is mostly because of less time in the field and at sites not favoured by hirundines, but still, it’s an astonishing and worrying tally, especially of what’s supposed to be one of our common summer visitors (for which numbers seem to be thinner on the ground each summer) …

Saturday 3rd

I headed to Chiddingfold Forest in the morning, stopping en route at a recently found Little Owl spot near Hydestile where an adult was perched near a hole in an oak. At the forest itself, an hour-and-a-half yielded a decent 32 species – not bad for early July at a woodland site. This included an adult and recently fledged juvenile Nightingale right by a nest I found a few weeks back, which was pleasing.

Other bits included one each of Garden and Willow Warbler barely bothering to sing, Spotted Flycatcher, at least one Raven overhead, two Bullfinches, a flyover Siskin and my first House Sparrow for the site.

Sunday 4th

A check of Snowdenham Mill Pond mid-afternoon pleasingly revealed that the Mute Swan family were back, with at least four cygnets now looking considerably larger. At Bramley Park Lake, a female Mandarin escorted two well-grown juveniles around.

Monday 5th

A quick look at Tuesley in the morning revealed a tired looking adult Redshank resting on the far shore. I didn’t want to disturb it so settled for a ropey record shot and departed. At home later on, I noted House Martin and Sparrowhawk from the kitchen window.


Tuesday 6th

An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was flying low over Farncombe during the morning of a wet and windy day.

Wednesday 7th

A male Peregrine flew over the Duke of Sussex pub near Waterloo station mid-afternoon.

Thursday 8th

In the morning, a House Martin was flying around my road in Farncombe.

Friday 9th

I did a walk of Tuesley in the morning, where yet another Redshank was present, resting on the east shore. Of my nine records of the species here, eight have come in the first three weeks of July – clearly this is peak time for failed breeders to move back south. I was surprised to hear two singing Reed Warblers by the older reservoir (which I rarely check, but apparently they are regular per Eric S), as well as a nest containing three Black-headed Gull chicks.

More Redshank action.

Later in the morning I tried again for Purple Emperor at Chiddingfold Forest. Despite the sun being out for a change I drew a blank, although some 14 species made for a pleasant couple of hours. This included my first Essex Skippers and Purple Hairstreaks of the year, as well as good numbers of Marbled White, Ringlet and Silver-washed Fritillary.

Ringlet and Silver-washed Fritillary.

Bird activity was low-key, though I did hear singles of Nightingale (calling), Marsh Tit and Spotted Flycatcher and saw two Siskins in flight over Oaken Wood. Other bits included Common Lizard and Green Tiger Beetle, as well as a few familiar human faces! Nobody had seen any Purple Emperors and indeed I understand none have been reported all year so far – a shocking turn up for the books and symptomatic of an incredibly wet midsummer.

Saturday 10th

Just like last year, I took an early July trip to Bempton Cliffs in the hope of seeing a Black-browed Albatross. And, like last year, I dipped it again, once again seeking consolation in the awesome seabird colonies. This famous site is always a pleasure to visit and, in the company of Dave, Kit and Matt, I spent a bit of time trying to record some of said seabirds, managing Kittiwake and Gannet snippets.

Gannet, Razorbills and Puffin.

The warm south-easterly meant there was some light movement offshore, including two flocks of Common Scoter, a light trickle of Whimbrel and a distant flock of unidentified shorebird species (probably Dunlin). As southerners, the abundance of Tree Sparrows was novel, and other bits included a Barn Owl quartering in broad daylight, Stonechat, two Sedge Warblers and Kestrel.

Silver-ringed Tree Sparrow.

Sunday 11th

A male Sparrowhawk and a couple of House Martins flew over Farncombe in the early afternoon.

Monday 12th

No observations of note today.