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.|
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.
No sightings of note today.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.|
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.
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.