Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Au revoir August

For a change, August ended without much of a bang this year, as a sharp north-easterly airflow more befitting of October concluded the month. The subsequent cool, grey days delivered little on the migrant front (although the Bank Holiday did deliver its annual local rarities) and were particularly poor for passerines. However, on several occasions I found myself wasting away time watching the common summer species, revelling in their presence before they go. After all, we haven’t had much of a summer to enjoy, so it’s worth appreciating these birds, which are departing in similarly unseasonal conditions to the ones they arrived in back in April.

A Yellow Wagtail during a rare sunny morning this past week.

Wednesday 25th

Another overcast morning with the fresh north-easterly still firmly in place. A juvenile Common Sandpiper was a sight for sore eyes at Tuesley first thing – only my second of the autumn here (compared with birds on 34 days by this time last autumn!). Some 32 Egyptian Geese left roost too.

As a result of the weather, ringing at Shackleford was much quieter than last week, though 48 species across the site meant there was plenty to see. Six Whinchats included five that seemingly emerged from roost in the set aside before disappearing shortly after. A female-type Wheatear did the same. A light southward passage of Yellow Wagtails throughout reached 15, with some dropping in, though this was probably an undercount.

Whinchat, Wheatear and Robin.

Three each of Little Owl and Cormorant, two Ravens, a few Skylarks and singles of Hobby, Willow Warbler, Sparrowhawk, Ring-necked Parakeet and Reed Bunting were also noted. A brief and very skulking Acrocephalus in the set aside was likely a Sedge Warbler but couldn’t be identified. An apparent clear out of Whitethroats had occurred too – one adult today compared with 15 birds (mostly juveniles) last week.

Thursday 26th

It was incredibly gloomy at Tuesley early on, with the now strong north-north-easterly making for a cold session. The Common Sandpiper was still in situ and I managed a new personal high count for Egyptian Goose (44) at this site.

Friday 27th

The wind had dropped a touch and it was a bit brighter, but it still felt like October at Tuesley. The juvenile Common Sandpiper was about, seemingly having made friends with the local Pied Wagtails. A young Stock Dove seemed rather unwell and was exceptionally tame on the southern bank. At one point it actively tried to land on the water … a group of Yellow Wagtails dropped in as I was leaving, so I retraced my steps to go and appreciate them. An adult male and female with four juveniles may have been a family group. Delightful birds.

Common Sandpiper and Stock Dove.

There were about five Yellow Wagtails at Shackleford afterwards, as well as a decent showing of six Whinchats. No Wheatear, though, which seem thin on the ground this autumn. Two Willow Warblers were also noted and, interestingly, Blackcap outnumbered Whitethroat (two to one) – a very rare occurrence here when both species are present. Other bits included six Ravens and singles of Kestrel, Little Owl and Ring-necked Parakeet.

I concluded my morning by walking the Lammas Lands. My quest for a Whinchat here goes on, but I did note a male Stonechat feeding young and a close-knit family group of Whitethroats – crazy scenes given it’s nearly September. A Yellow Wagtail flew south – only my second Lammas Lands record – while Kingfisher, Kestrel and four Reed Buntings also made the checklist.

Saturday 28th

A lazy start was interrupted by a message from Shaun P, which had me racing down to Frensham Great Pond. There, I was pleased to see that the adult and juvenile Arctic Terns he’d earlier found were still present, flying around and occasionally landing on the buoy (showing their very short legs, a feature not often seen in Surrey!). 

Arctic Tern averages perhaps one record every two years in south-west Surrey, almost exclusively at Frensham and usually in the spring. So, this was a nice way to kick off the Bank Holiday weekend and my 149th local bird of the year. Four late Swifts, a Kingfisher, two Grey Wagtails and a Reed Bunting were also noted.

Despite the uninspiring weather I decided to do a long walk along the High Weald Ridge to Dunsfold, starting at The Hurtwood. Bizarrely, I managed four species new for me here, all flyovers: Feral Pigeon, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Raven and Reed Bunting. A female Crossbill was very much of note and a Mistle Thrush was my first in south-west Surrey this month! A Spotted Flycatcher and three Bullfinches were also present.

Hascombe Hill was up next, after a Kestrel was espied at Hascombe Place Farm. On the hill itself a couple of Ravens and two Sparrowhawks were knocking about and a Siskin flew over. A mixed flock near Cobblestone Cottage held a Willow Warbler and a male Firecrest.

Firecrest and Sparrowhawk action.

The sun eventually came out at Painshill Farm and, with it, the birds. Two Yellow Wagtails south was a good start, but the best action came along an unsuspecting hedgerow which held a female-type Redstart, a juvenile Whinchat and a Willow Warbler. At times, the former two species posed together. Classic August scenes.

Whinchat and Redstart.

Other bits included singles of Raven, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, a flock of 85 Linnets, Red-legged Partridge, four Whitethroats and a House Martin. A quick look at Snowdenham Mill Pond on the way back revealed the family of Mute Swans, a drake Gadwall and a few Mandarin.

Sunday 29th

It was a lovely and sunny late August morning at Shackleford, where a walk with Dave produced 43 species. Best of all was a Grasshopper Warbler flushed from Cuckoo Corner – impressively Dave’s second of the morning following one he found at Thursley earlier. Three Spotted Flycatchers along a hedgerow in the northern fields were my first of the year here. A Weasel, two Whinchats, a male Wheatear, Willow Warbler, Little Owl, five Stonechats and a Coal Tit helped make for a very pleasant jaunt.


Buoyed by the promise of yesterday I was tempted back to Painshill Farm, but it was much quieter in the now warm late morning conditions. A late Swift highlighted, with a Yellow Wagtail flying south and two Kestrels, a Sparrowhawk and 31 Red-legged Partridges also seen.

Red-legged Partridge.

Monday 30th

Another grey and windy morning had rolled in as I checked Tuesley early on, where the Common Sandpiper was still present. 

I then chose to walk Thundry Meadows. As I approached part of the riverbank I heard a familiar ‘plop’, then obtained the briefest of views of a rodent swimming away from me, before I lost it beyond the dense vegetation that separated me from the water. If I was along the Arun, I wouldn’t think twice that it was a Water Vole, but this species is thought to have been extinct in Surrey for 10 years. 

Some people I’ve spoken to think this isn’t the case and that a few small and undetected populations may persist. My observation was a possible at best – it could have been something else (my small mammal game is not strong!) – but this is surely the type of quiet riverine habitat with lush vegetation and high banks that could support the species. Who knows …

Avian action as quiet, though a Tree Pipit and three House Martins overhead was a sign of movement. A Little Grebe was on the Wey, three Mandarin flew upriver, six Siskins were in the alder carr and an impressive 170 Mallards were feeding on the meadows.

Later on, two Swifts – perhaps my last of the year – flew over Alfold Football Club, as did a female Sparrowhawk. Two Lapwings near Dunsfold Aerodrome were my first locally since 20 July.

Tuesday 31st

No observations of note today.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

A solid run

The last week has been largely decent, despite a mixed bag of weather. It is now that time of year when watching the forecasts and trying to use them to your benefit in the field can pay dividends, but you get the sense everything is upside down in 2021. So, I’ve been going for a more relaxed approach, just going outside when time allows and enjoying what’s about.

It's Whinchat time of year.
Wednesday 18th

It was unseasonably dull and grey for my first visit to Tuesley in a few days, which was immediately brightened up by the presence of a juvenile Little Ringed Plover. This species has lots of character, particularly young birds. It was a relaxed individual, foraging away among the Pied Wagtails on the shore. Surprisingly, only my second in south-west Surrey this year …

I soon flushed a brown warbler from the grassy bank and it flew silently into cover. My initial thought was Gropper, such was the behaviour, but a patient stakeout revealed it to be an adult Sedge Warbler. As mentioned recently, this species is rare around here and a treat when encountered on passage. I’ve actually had one at Tuesley before, funnily enough in the exact same bushes, in May 2016. Other bits included a Lesser Black-backed Gull over and a few Swallows through.

Skulking Sedge.

Thursday 19th

After the little run of north-westerlies, a switch to a gentle south-west breeze with full cloud cover resulted in a fantastic four-hour session at Shackleford. Of the 49 species logged, 10 were trapped and ringed. Amazingly this included the third and fourth site records of Sedge Warbler – caught at the same time after I’d espied one upon arrival. Both were juveniles and very smart in the hand indeed.

Sedge Warblers in the hand.

There were plenty of other signs of passage. The first two Whinchats of the autumn were in the southern alfalfa, a Wheatear was nearby, an elusive Redstart was in a hedgerow and a Tree Pipit dropped in briefly – all superb August content. Three species of hirundine included my first Shackleford Sand Martins of the year, at one point pursued by a Hobby.

Wheatear, Whinchat and Tree Pipit.

A juvenile Willow Warbler, one of three on site, was also banded. I can’t get enough of these gems at this time of year and spent a while following one around one of the margins. Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat all made it into the nets as well.

Willow Warbler action.

An excellent session had a fine support cast too, with Coal Tit (local rare!), Little Owl, two Ravens, four Reed Buntings, 400 Starlings, 100 or more Linnets, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, two Kestrels, five Stonechats and a Ring-necked Parakeet also on offer. Phew. Local August birding at it’s best!

Friday 20th

A Swift flew over Farncombe late afternoon.

Saturday 21st

It was mild and still at Thursley first thing, with the forecast fog not materialising. As is often the case during a south-easterly it was a slow-burner, but eventually proved to be a decent three-and-a-half hours on site with 47 species seen. Pick of the bunch was a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker sieved out of a massive mixed species flock east of Birchy Pond.

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

She was particularly mobile, but I eventually managed some record shots. The flock also contained a Spotted Flycatcher, several Willow Warblers and a few Blackcaps. A further three Spotted Flycatchers (an adult and two juveniles) were at Crossbill Corner. Other bits near Birchy Pond included a calling Water Rail and, to my great surprise, a Tree Pipit taking food in to a nest – extraordinarily late in the season.

Other bits included my first local Yellow Wagtail of the season, typically heard and not seen as it flew over Francis Copse, which held a Bullfinch. A single flock of 12 Woodlarks were flushed near the tumuli, a Snipe was at West Bog and a Wheatear alighted on Shrike Hill as the rain set in.

A quick check of Frensham afterwards was tern-less, though three Swifts and two Sand Martins were of note. Later in the morning I walked the Lammas Lands just as the heavens opened, logging five Stonechats, four Reed Buntings, two Whitethroats and a Grey Wagtail

In the afternoon, I was most surprised to see a Brown Hairstreak in the garden. I have no idea where the nearest population is and friends far more knowledgeable about butterflies than I agreed it was an unusual occurrence.

Sunday 22nd

It was bright and breezy at Shackleford in the morning, where an excellent session delivered the magic 50 species total – only the second time I’ve achieved that figure here. The clear highlight was an incongruous Green Sandpiper on ‘Dunlin Ditch’ (a small puddle in one of the fields). Typically it flushed straight away, but it must have re-landed at the other end of the farm as I saw it again in flight later on – some sandpiper-like footprints were also found on the edge of another small puddle. Shades of 29 August 2020 … 

Green Sandpiper in flight and footprints.

A Whinchat was with Stonechats in the one remaining margin, a Yellow Wagtail flew south-east and Starling numbers were up to an impressive 520 or more. Other bits that were handy in achieving the grand 50 total included three Little Owls, a juvenile Bullfinch, three flyover Cormorants, Ring-necked Parakeet, three Willow Warblers and a Hobby that shot through.

Visiting family in Sussex in the afternoon meant there was time for a quick walk of Sidlesham Ferry, where no fewer than nine wader species were on Ferry Pool, which is looking the best it has for shorebirds for a few years. Best of all was the lingering Temminck’s Stint, with Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Common and Green Sandpipers also seen. A Yellow Wagtail flew over too.

Later on at my parents house, hundreds of larids feeding on a flying ant emergence included plenty of Mediterranean Gulls.

Monday 23rd

A few House Martins were over Farncombe mid-morning.

Tuesday 24th

The forecast blue skies never materialised at Thursley this morning, which was grey, dull and rather cold in the breezy north-easterly. Most of the action was at Pudmore, where the autumnal theme was boosted by a flock of 10 Teal (probably passage birds rather than local breeders) and a Snipe. A Yellow Wagtail in with the Pieds added a bit of colour, however, and a fly-through Redshank was a nice surprise, albeit fleeting. A Sand Martin and an increase in roosting goose numbers (including 91 Greylags) were also noted.

Yellow Wagtail and Teal.

Despite four Spotted Flycatchers and a further 10 Yellow Wagtails (including nine that dropped into the Belted Galloway enclosure on Ockley) it was quiet elsewhere. In fact it seemed there had been a clear out of breeders – Stonechat numbers were greatly reduced, only singles of Willow Warbler and Redstart were noted and Woodlark and Tree Pipit didn’t make the checklist.

Later on in the morning I walked along the river, with the clear highlight a Whinchat at Unstead Water Meadows, where a Yellow Wagtail flew south (obviously a few moving today), a Reed Warbler was in a mixed species flock and a Bullfinch was near Perry Bridge. One Kestrel was knocking about, with another at the Lammas Lands, where four Stonechats and three Whitethroats were present.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

The summer that never happened

After the excitement of August’s opening period, things have slowed down as the unsettled nature of this year plays catch up. Birding has been good, but there's no mention of Common Sandpipers, Wheatears or Whinchats in this post. Instead, disconcertingly late breeding behaviours have been observed, such as Spotted Flycatchers still on eggs, second Swallow broods fledging (with adults looking to go for a third clutch), warblers feeding young and recent fledglings of species usually well finished by now. From passing migrants to local breeders, I suspect things will be a good couple of weeks behind schedule across the board, following a summer that never really happened.

A Red Kite during a week in which raptors have been the theme.

Tuesday 10th

There was a light mist at Thursley early on, though it quickly burned off. I’d just got to Pudmore when I picked up a lumbering silhouette heading south over Ockley: an Osprey no less. It cruised on in leisurely fashion before I lost it behind Spur Wood. An adult, presumably it was returning back south from (likely failed) breeding grounds and had roosted here overnight, like one I had in September last year. Ospreys are always special to see locally.

Osprey record shots.

The site was soaking after the relentless rain of late but there was still plenty to see, including adult and juvenile Spotted Flycatchers at Crossbill Corner, excellent numbers of Stonechats, some 221 Canada Geese from the Pudmore roost and a young Kestrel near the tumuli. A classically August mixed species flock was near Birchy Pond and contained one Garden and six Willow Warblers

Wednesday 11th

An hour at Frensham Great Pond was fairly quiet, though a Spotted Flycatcher in a mixed flock near the hotel was nice to see. Singles of Kingfisher, Sparrowhawk and Reed Warbler were also noted, along with 27 Great Crested Grebes and three each of Sand Martin and Common Tern.

Thursday 12th

It was disappointingly drizzly at Shackleford for ringing. Nine Whitethroats were the only birds in the nets, though it did highlight what a healthy population there is here. An adult and juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull (the Farncombe birds?) flew south, a Red-legged Partridge was in the northern fields and two Reed Buntings were about.

Friday 13th

A female Sparrowhawk flew through the garden in the morning.

Saturday 14th

It was misty on a morning walk through the Thorncombe Street south section to Painshill Farm. At times it felt more like mid-June, with lots of recent fledglings noted and not one bird that could pass off as a migrant. Good numbers of young finches were at Painshill, including Greenfinch, Linnet and Bullfinch, where two Kestrels and singles of Yellowhammer and Hobby were also seen.

Sunday 15th

It was a grey and dull morning for a walk of Puttenham Common. Two adult Dartford Warblers feeding juveniles seemed rather late but was nice to witness. Most of the action came east of General’s Pond, where a big mixed species flock contained three Spotted Flycatchers and a juvenile Willow Warbler; singles of these two species were also seen along Murtmoor Lane. A Redstart briefly sub-sang and a Tree Pipit flew over – my first shpeez of the season.

Afterwards, a quick check of Shackleford sprang into life when a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew low and slow over the Lone Barn track upon my arrival. The bird was receiving a barrage of abuse from the local corvids and, despite trying to settle twice, was eventually ushered off the site some 10 minutes later, departing high south-west (presumably the same bird was seen over Thursley Common at 11 am). 

Marsh Harrier action.

This species is always exciting to see around here and this is the first in Surrey I've recorded down low and ‘in habitat’ (normally local records involve high-flying birds). Perhaps this individual roosted overnight, attracted by the type of habitat you could expect to find breeding pairs in Europe (and indeed now parts of the South-East). Whatever the case, a quality encounter. It was otherwise quiet – still no Wheatears – though a Raven flew south and four Stonechats, a Red-legged Partridge and a male Kestrel were about.

Male Stonechat.

Four Swifts and a Sparrowhawk flew over Walton-on-Thames in the afternoon.

Monday 16th

I walked Thursley early on, accruing 44 species during a bright and breezy walk. A Reed Warbler calling from the Pudmore reedbed was a nice surprise and my first of the year here, while two Little Grebes and a flighty Teal were on the water. Cricklestones held Hobby, Spotted Flycatcher and a flyover Grey Wagtail, two Kingfishers and a Mandarin were at Forked Pond and a very young Stonechat was opposite tumuli.

At the end of the walk I flushed a silent Tree Pipit near South Bog. This was my first sighting on the common for more than a month – a maximum of four territories of this declining summer visitor were mapped at Thursley this summer and I personally have seen zero evidence of successful breeding. Go back 40 years to 1981 and the Surrey Bird Report documents no fewer than 52 Tree Pipit territories at this site …

Tuesday 17th

In the morning, four House Martins were seen still visiting nests in Godalming.