Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

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Sunday, 31 October 2021

Dead quiet

There isn't much to report from the last nine days – it's been incredibly quiet in south-west Surrey, as it has been in practically all of Britain this autumn. The most notable records probably involve my latest British Yellow Wagtail and second-latest House Martin, both symptomatic of this out of sync year.

A late Yellow Wagtail – one of only three photos of note during the last nine days!

Saturday 23rd

No sightings today.

Sunday 24th

A Tawny Owl flew over the Billingshurst Road at Goose Green on the way to Worthing for a planned catch up with David and Matt. The rather strong southerly offered hopes of some decent seawatching action from Marine Gardens but it never materialised, with the highlights 10 or more Kittiwakes, 10 Wigeon and three Rock Pipits west, two Common Scoter east and 13 Red-breasted Merganser knocking about. A huge feeding frenzy drew in hundreds of gulls and Gannets, but nothing rarer.

On the way home, three Cattle Egrets were seen in their regular field east of Mill Road, Arundel, and 10 Lapwings were in their traditional spot east of Dunsfold Aerodrome.

Cattle Egret.

Monday 25th

Some light south-westerly passage was taking place over Thursley Common this morning, chiefly involving Starlings and Chaffinches, with at least three Bramblings detected among flocks of the latter species. Otherwise, though, it was truly quiet, with the only bits of note one Snipe at Pudmore, a squealing Water Rail at Birchy Pond and a few Lesser Redpolls.

Meeting Matt for an hour after work, I decided to show him Tuesley for the first time but didn't expect anything to be about. As a result, we were both most surprised to see a Yellow Wagtail in with the Greys and Pieds. What an incredibly late bird – my latest ever in Britain by 14 days! A fitting record for this particularly upside down and all over the place year.

Yellow Wagtail.

Tuesday 26th

Ringing at Shackleford with Steve was quiet, both in the nets and otherwise. A couple of Bramblings headed west – what a good start to the autumn it's been for this species. A House Martin flew south over the northern fields, becoming my latest ever in Surrey by four days and not far off my personal British record (28 October 2003 at Durlston CP). Bullfinch, Kestrel and two Ring-necked Parakeets were also noted, but the pi├Ęce de resistance came when – to my relative astonishment – a Kingfisher zipped silently north over the Lone Barn track. Unsurprisingly a Shackleford first!

Wednesday 27th

No sightings of note today.

Thursday 28th

It was mild, dull and breezy at Thursley this morning, which once again was terribly quiet. A Fieldfare at High Ground was a late first of the autumn for me. Meadow Pipit numbers had decreased further, as passage birds vacate the site – stark contrast to last year, when the burned ground was highly appealing to pipits, finches and buntings. A female Kestrel was at High Ground, with other arguable highlights a Collared Dove over Redstart Corner and a high count of 10 Cormorants, including seven that flew east together.

I then walked Bagmoor and Royal Commons – veritable birding wildernesses in south-west Surrey – for the first time since this date last year, strangely enough. A female Sparrowhawk and a Bullfinch were noted, while a Marsh Tit among a big mixed species flock was a good record for this area. The bird of the morning, however, came near the end of the walk – a vocal and unexpected Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, which was more than enough to put a smile on my face.

Friday 29th

No sightings of note today.

Saturday 30th

It was wet and windy at Frensham Great Pond in the morning, where Pochard numbers were up to 11 and included seven drakes and a female off the hotel. A female Sparrowhawk flew over and a Little Grebe was at the west end. Conditions were similar at Snowdenham Mill Pond afterwards, where eight Shoveler, two Gadwall and an Egyptian Goose were of note.

A casual walk at Shackleford Heath mid-afternoon produced flyovers of Skylark and Siskin.

Sunday 31st

A Little Egret was on Hell Ditch at the Lammas Lands as I passed early afternoon – my first locally since the end of July. A really windy walk around the Loxhill area afterwards was virtually dead, save a small flock of Linnets in the cover crops.

Friday, 22 October 2021

A very different October

Mid-October 2020 was a hive of birding activity in Britain: easterly after easterly was producing Sibes galore, vis-mig was dynamic and it felt like the next big find was just around the corner. My blog post for that time was 'the year that keeps on giving'. 2021 is totally different – the year that keeps on underwhelming, more like! But that's birding – every year is different and the hobby wouldn't be as fun as it is if that wasn't the case. And one good thing about birding inland is the fact that, even if things are pretty dead nationally, contextual rares can still turn up.

A local Brent Goose: barely of note on the coast but great value locally.

Friday 15th

It was mild and cloudy at Thursley, where a two-and-a-half-hour walk saw 48 species logged. Arriving pre-dawn, there were lots of thrushes on the deck including good numbers of Blackbird, Song Thrush and Redwing, as well as three Mistle Thrushes. Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that a male Ring Ouzel was flushed from Shrike Hill just before 8 am – my first here. This species is having a poor autumn so it was nice to encounter and, apparently, it's the first at Thursley for more than six years …

A couple of Bramblings, a flock of nine Crossbills, eight Siskins and six Lesser Redpolls were noted among a decent spread of finches. A Yellowhammer in flight over Ockley Common was a surprise – my first here this year and only the third on the common in 2021, despite the presence of the breeding population at nearby Witley Common. Other bits included a Snipe at Pudmore, singles of Sparrowhawk and Kestrel and some 200 Pied Wagtails out of roost.

Dartford Warbler.

Saturday 16th

It was drizzly and gloomy at Tuesley first thing, but this slowly lifted over the next couple of hours. It turned out to be an enjoyable session, with a bit of vis-mig bumping up the species total to 48 – a new personal best for me here, having only cleared 40 once before (getting to 25 is good going usually!).

To my surprise, the two Rock Pipits were still about but proved really mobile and hard to pin down. It’s been a good autumn for this species inland. A Green Sandpiper was also around.


The best action was in the skies, though, and included my first Tuesley Bramblings (at least two), as well as only my second Skylarks (two) of the year here. Other notable bits overhead included my second site records of Teal (three) and Snipe (one), the latter my first since September 2019 and the 14th wader species here in 2021 … 

I checked Snowdenham Mill Pond mid-afternoon for the first time since late August. It's a site I love but isn't currently on my main birding circuit. Some 14 Gadwall were counted, with the family group of Mute Swans present and correct too.  

Sunday 17th

At least one of the Rock Pipits was still at Tuesley early on, making it a week on site, although it was particularly elusive. Two Mute Swans flew north, Little Grebe numbers were up to 22 – a new high count – and the Green Sandpiper was again foraging along the shoreline.


Green Sandpiper and Rock Pipit.

After this, an hour-and-a-half at Shackleford was rather quiet, with a Red-legged Partridge, a female Kestrel, two Stonechats and six Ring-necked Parakeets highlighting, as well as 149 Stock Doves feeding in the northern fields. I was pondering my next move when Shaun messaged with news of a Brent Goose at Frensham. I figured it'd be nice to see, so I headed down.

What I wasn't expecting was for the bird – an adult – to be incredibly tame! Incongruously enough, it was sat on the beach roosting with Mallards, seemingly very tired. I was able to get down to a few feet of it without causing disturbance and, although approachable, the date fits a wild bird perfectly for Surrey and there were no signs of captivity.



Dark-bellied Brent Goose.

It occasionally ventured into the water when a roving dog or toddler came too close but was otherwise quite content, even allowing for mobile phone footage (see below)! A nice experience and only my fourth in south-west Surrey, though the second this year after a blank 2020, 2019 and 2018 locally.

In the afternoon, I tried my luck for a Purple Heron in Sussex for the third time in the last year – and dipped again. It was mild and sunny at Honer Farm, Pagham, though, with a juvenile Swallow on the wing. On the way home, a stop at a private farm reservoir not far from Pagham produced a cracking Black-necked Grebe that showed nicely in the afternoon sun. It was nice to get good views of this species in winter plumage – usually they are a distant speck. A couple of Pochard and a few Shoveler were also present.



Black-necked Grebe.

Monday 18th

No sightings of note today.

Tuesday 19th

It was drizzly, windy and mild during a check of Snowdenham Mill Pond before work. Six Shoveler included three adult drakes and 13 Gadwall were counted, with singles of Mandarin and Tufted Duck also present.

Wednesday 20th

Another windy morning and a look at Tuesley confirmed that the Rock Pipits had moved on. It was very quiet, with a female Kestrel the only bird of note.

Thursday 21st

Despite heavy rainfall overnight, I was still surprised at how flooded the water meadows between Farncombe and Unstead were during a late morning stroll. Presumably the wet summer is a factor – we could be in for some serious flooding this winter. The common gulls and wildfowl had moved in, with three Mandarin – uncommon on the deck here – of note. Passerine activity included two Chiffchaffs, a Bullfinch and a few Siskins.

Mandarin.

Friday 22nd

It felt like winter at Shackleford pre-dawn with a light frost and sharp westerly. Ringing was inevitably quiet in the bright and breezy conditions, but some good content was still to be had, not least a subadult Great Black-backed Gull that lumbered south over our heads. This is a genuine rarity in south-west Surrey (read here) with this only my third of the year, and the fifth in the last two years …


Great Black-backed Gull.

Some light westerly finch passage included probably triple figures of Chaffinches, as well as at least 10 Bramblings and three Lesser Redpolls. A Yellowhammer was very much of note and my first here since last winter, while Little Owl, Kestrel and two Egyptian Geese were also present.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Back in England

The last eight days have been a bit all over the place, with a short family break in Dorset, a long-distance twitch and reacquainting myself with the patch all featuring on the birding schedule. Wherever I've been, it feels like autumn proper is finally with us and good quality field sessions have been had as a result. Hopefully there's more to come in the coming weeks ...

Meadow Pipit from earlier. A first experience of the species – one of my favourites – in the hand.

Thursday 7th

It was murky and dull at Thursley Common for my fist visit to the site in three weeks. Hopes of a vis-mig session were dashed early on by the poor visibility, but some bits of note were still to be had including late singles of Yellow Wagtail and Tree Pipit on Ockley – the latter being my latest ever Surrey record. Nine Mistle Thrushes seemed to be genuine movers, good Meadow Pipit numbers hit around 140 and a Firecrest was at Truxford.

Late morning my first Redwing of the autumn called as it flew past my kitchen window while I was working. They, like many autumn species, have been late and thin on the ground so far. After work, a Common Gull flew over Farncombe – my first locally since 1 April.

Friday 8th

No sightings of note today.

Saturday 9th

Some of the thickest fog I can recall locally was hanging in the air this morning so, with news that yesterday's Long-toed Stint was still in West Yorkshire, I headed to St Aidan's. Upon arrival it didn't take long to locate the bird – and the huge crowd watching it – as it fed on an island on Astley Lake among Lapwings. A structurally eye-catching peep, views were decent in the 'scope but the poor light and distance meant my photos were atrocious …


Long-toed Stint.

Long-toed Stint is a mythical bird in Britain, this being the third record. The last was as long ago as 1982, so there was no surprise that hundreds paid pilgrimage today – indeed, it was good to catch up with some familiar faces. It's really been the year of the wader for me, enjoying quality species on patch and seeing no fewer than 37 species in Britain and Ireland in 2021 ...

Other bits during a pleasant stroll away from the crowds included a Black-necked Grebe and four Spoonbills on Western Reedbed, four Ruff and a heard-only Bearded Tit. On the way home, a Tawny Owl flying low over the road at Shalford at dusk was cool to see.

Sunday 10th

Another foggy morning, scuppering my hopes of vis-mig and sending me to Tuesley instead. It felt quite good here and a male Stonechat hopping about on the fence was surprisingly a site first for me. 

Stonechat.

I was walking the north edge when I heard a call familiar to me in recent weeks: Rock Pipit. There were a couple of small Meadow Pipit groups knocking about and, during the next hour, this particularly flighty bird gave me the run around.

It took a while to get satisfactory views, then even longer to get photos, but eventually I managed some. Meanwhile, the benefit of continual sound recording was highlighted by the fact I'd picked up the bird on a couple of occasions when it flushed. Eventually, after a lot of patience and watching the bird fly to the other side of the reservoir just as I got near, I nailed it – and there were two!





Rock Pipit action.

I was made up with this. My passerine finding game has been very poor this year – I've found nothing of note. I've always imagined Rock Pipit here; indeed it was on my radar today and one of the reasons I visited. Extra bonuses were the fact this was a Surrey lifer for me – and a Tuesley first. Indeed, in south-west Surrey Rock Pipit is a great rarity. The only sites to have hosted birds are Frensham and Unstead; the latter site had three records in the 1970s and Frensham six since 1953, with the last as long ago as 1994. Local mega indeed!

In the way down to Dorset I popped into Normandy Marsh, on the coastal edge of the New Forest. Here, in balmy, late summer-like conditions, an adult Western Sandpiper – present since 4th – was showing well among Dunlin. A juvenile Little Stint was also present, along with six Bar-tailed Godwits and lots of commoner waders.


Western Sandpiper.

Monday 11th

It was a little chilly in a moderate north-west wind at Durlston Country Park early on – a site I visited often as a kid but haven't for many years. Bits were on the move, including 150 or more Pied Wagtails, at least 100 Goldfinches and smaller numbers of hirundines and other finches. Heaps of Chiffchaffs were in the bushes – at least 60 – but nothing scarcer was among them. A few Kittiwakes and a westerly-bound flock of Brent Geese were seen offshore.

Tuesday 12th

It was even colder this morning, with the temperature five Celsius upon arrival at a misty Arne RSPB. It’s another site I have fond memories of but haven't been to for an age, and an enjoyable hour-and-a-half stroll under blue, wintry skies produced some 61 species. The highlight was no fewer than 51 Spoonbills feeding in the channel of Shipstal Point – easily my biggest count of this species in the UK.

Other bits included a flyover Brambling over Shipstal Hill, a Great Egret in Wych Channel, two Dartford Warblers, a Firecrest by the car park, a Swallow, 20 Avocets and three Bar-tailed Godwits. On the way back, a quick can of Holme Lane GPs produced 15 Gadwall, a Wigeon and a Little Grebe.

It was much warmer by mid-afternoon – three butterfly species were noted on the wing during a two-hour walk around St Aldhelm's Head. I’ve visited this site once before, on 18 October 2017 for the famous Two-barred Warbler. I've often thought about coming down here for a prospective rarity hunting and it felt good today, with 35 species noted. 

Best of all was my latest ever Redstart – a female-type foraging along a hedgerow. Other bits included two five Stonechats, at least 250 Linnets, six Yellowhammers, two Red-legged Partridges, two Blackcaps and three Kestrels.


Redstart and Stonechat.

Wednesday 13th

A short walk around Peveril Point in the morning was fairly quiet, though a couple of small flocks of Redwings and a Blackcap and six Chiffchaffs were in the bushes. A single Mediterranean Gull and four Rock Pipits were around the point and a female Sparrowhawk flew through.

Back home, the raucous calls of a Ring-necked Parakeet were heard from my kitchen window mid-afternoon, and soon enough I spotted the perpetrator perched a few gardens down. This highly localised south-west Surrey bird seems to have finally penetrated the north-east corner of the region this year with a few records along the Wey – plus my second-ever garden record back in June. I suspect in a decade or so this will be a familiar species in the Godalming area. Five Redwings flew west while I was watching the green beast.

Ring-necked Parakeet.

Thursday 14th

It was great to be back at Shackleford for the first time in nearly four weeks, with heaps of birds around on a lovely, autumnal morning. A spectacular westerly Redwing passage had passed over Surrey yesterday, with Leith Hill smashing the county record with more than 34,000 birds – a figure also of historical national significance. Birds were still moving today, and in a little over two hours I logged 4,760, with activity peaking between 7.15 am and 8 am and between 8.30 am and 9 am. 

There were three flight lines: along the North Downs (which was easily the biggest route), over the fields and over Norney, with some flocks totalling 200 or more. In all, my second biggest Redwing vis-mig haul in Surrey, though many birds missed due to the fact we were concentrating on ringing (or at least trying to!).


Overweight Meadow Pipit and first-year female Reed Bunting.

Seven Meadow Pipits in the nets were nice and included one bird that was 30% above the average weight for this species! A first-year female Reed Bunting, a Chiffchaff and a Pied Wagtail were of note too. Other bits included heard-only flyover Brambling, Grey Wagtail and Siskin, a Kestrel, a Swallow and two Ring-necked Parakeets.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

The American dream

Our trip out west came good this week, with a flurry of finds and successful twitch of a mega wader. In total, I've managed 116 species in western Ireland during this past fortnight, with some proper quality in there: two Red-eyed Vireos, Solitary Sandpiper, American Black Duck, American Golden Plover, Barred Warbler, American Wigeon, two Yellow-browed Warblers, four Sabine's Gulls, 150 Sooty Shearwaters, Curlew Sandpiper, White-tailed Eagle and Little Stint are just some of the highlights. It's been a slog for the most part but that's the nature of the beast here – and ultimately it's been worth the grind. 

A bird long on my wish list: Red-eyed Vireo.
Friday 1st

A mixed day. Ferociously strong winds didn't prevent us from hammering the island again, with the recent low firmly in our minds. Once more, however, we scored zilch – not even a Chiffchaff or Blackcap – despite covering 20 km on foot in the morning. The Swallow family in Dooega were an arguable highlight.

The weather clearly had produced, though, as news from the nearby Mullet Peninsula came through: a Red-eyed Vireo. In need of a boost we went for it – and how worthwhile it proved. This species has long been top of my wish list, so to be the only birders watching it in a wind battered garden on a remote Irish headland was truly special. It even called for us and occasionally caught insects along a clump of willows, but generally kept elusive in the strong breeze. Magic stuff.




Red-eyed Vireo.

Amazingly, while we were watching it news broke of a Solitary Sandpiper 10 minutes down the road. We eventually pulled ourselves away from the vireo to try and connect, but sadly missed this particularly flighty bird that had been favouring a small puddle in a paddock. After two hours we called it quits – and of course it was reported again not long after we made it home, knackered and drained after a long day in the field.

Saturday 2nd

It was calm and largely bright this morning and felt good for finding. I gave Dooega my best effort yet – four hours and some 9 km walked – but while I got a personal high species count for the site (35) I failed to log any migrants, save a flyover Siskin; tenuous at best … other bits included my first Dooega Choughs, two Ringed Plovers on the beach and four each of Shag and Stonechat. The afternoon was a repeat – lots of kilometres walked and few birds seen. We retired at 5.30 pm, defeated, and headed to the pub for some consolation pints of Guinness.

Sunday 3rd

We decided to try for the Solitary Sandpiper again, getting up early and arriving by the paddock early morning. A patient wait was livened up by the appearance of Snipe, Redshank and Rock Pipit on the incongruous muddy puddle, which wasn’t dissimilar to the one at Shackleford that has lured in waders before.


Snipe and Redshank.

The moment came a little after 10 am, when we picked up the Solitary Sandpiper on call. It landed briefly then flew off, but thankfully it returned shortly after and we ended up enjoying some 10 minutes of crippling views of this mega Nearctic wader as it foraged on worms and insects. A lifer for me, I was surprised at how different to Green Sandpiper it was – almost like a hybrid between Wood and Green Sandpipers.





Solitary Sandpiper.

The marked eye-ring, spangled upperparts and longish, slightly drooping bill were all noted, as well as a rather attenuated and delicate structure. The classic ID feature is the dark rump and this was seen in flight, when the bird vocalised too. A quality encounter …

The all important rump ...

In the afternoon I wondered the village again but it was quiet as ever, with nothing of note seen.

Monday 4th

A mega day. It was calm and bright as Josh and I decided to go to the village of Doogort for the first time on this trip – this proved a good decision. It felt birdy from the off and in no time I finally got my first Chiffchaff of the trip, followed by a Treecreeper. But the big one was lurking in an alder copse behind the Strand Hotel: Red-eyed Vireo!




Achill's second-ever Red-eyed Vireo.

It was elusive and mobile but showed for about 45 minutes as we frantically kept up with it under the canopy. It had no trouble finding food – Daddy Longlegs, shield bugs and other insects were all consumed, sometimes quite casually while it sat and preened. An amazing encounter, and Dan was able to get over in time before we lost it. Despite extensive searching we didn't locate it by the end of the day, but to be fair we were quite distracted at times …

Upon exiting the copse and walking down the lane, the appearance of a Barred Warbler was almost less expected than the vireo! While not the most remarkable scarce if on Shetland or the East Coast, Barred Warbler is pretty mega out here and this seems to be the first Mayo record since 2014. Like the REV it was easily finding food, often munching on berries. We saw it several times during the day, but it could go missing for spells.


Barred Warbler.

After this bird had been appreciated, the crazy spell continued when a Yellow-browed Warbler was espied with a Chiffchaff further along the lane. It was mobile and didn't allow for photos, though it called often and indeed we heard it a few more times during the day in the general area – only the second in Ireland this autumn. What a crazy hour or so – a fortnight of no migrants whatsoever, then three in close proximity. The madness of rarity hunting out west demonstrated in style!

Other decent bits in Doogort included Bullfinch, three Woodpigeons (my first on Achill!), Sparrowhawk, Chough and Siskin. In all, an epic morning and easily the birdiest of the trip. Even though a thrash around the west end late afternoon was quiet, a House Martin over the garden was another unexpected record and capped off an immense October day in the field, with birds from all points of the compass.

Tuesday 5th

Another bright and dry day, though the wind had picked up and swung to the north-west. With the next few days looking wet and windy I decided to do the patch rounds at Dooega one more time, with half an eye on hitting 50 species for the site, having managed 47 so far. Things started well with five Greenfinches flying about the paddocks – a trip first. 

Two Shags were on the jetty and 27 Ringed Plovers on the beach, but my hoped for patch goodie came in 'Sallow Valley' – an extensive area of sallows in a sheltered part of the village I'd nicknamed – courtesy of a Yellow-browed Warbler among a small group of Goldcrests. The bird was silent and hyper-active, so photos were a challenge, as you can see below. Only the fourth in Ireland this autumn and good value out west …




Yellow-browed Warbler.

In all I managed 38 species – my best patch effort yet. It was capped off when two Skylarks flushed on Dooega Head took me to a pleasing 50 species for the site.

I met with the others after to check Doogort again at midday. It was much quieter than yesterday, with no sign of the Barred Warbler or REV, though they were both seen in the evening. A male Bullfinch and two Swallows highlighted. 

On the way back, a quick check of Loch Doo produced, with two cracking adult Whooper Swans on the water. The duo were being harassed by the local Mute Swans and were calling often, but generally seemed relaxed as they fed in the shallows, giving quality views. Fresh in from Iceland no doubt – lovely stuff. A small flock of Lapwings were fluttering around in the distance too.




Whooper Swans.

A short wander around Dooega in the evening produced a surprise group of 10 Kittiwakes sat on the sea and two Swallows over Sallow Valley, though there was no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler.

Wednesday 6th

A grim day with persistent rain and a stiff southerly breeze. A quick scan from the living room revealed at least one Kittiwake still on the water, but not much else.