Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Tuesday, 30 November 2021

The struggle of looking for waterbirds in south-west Surrey

November's end has been cold as prolonged northerlies – including Storm Arwen – rained down on Surrey. Thus, it's been a period to work waterbodies; late autumn often delivers unusual wildfowl, grebes or divers inland in the South-East. This birding forecast came through, not least via Ferruginous Duck at Thorpe Park, Slavonian Grebe and Long-tailed Duck at Staines and Little Auk in Oxfordshire. But the waterbird forcefield that is south-west Surrey failed to produce, despite my best efforts. That's how it is around here, though – and why local rarity context is a great thing (and why it feels so good when you do find something decent!).


Saturday 20th

I walked the Lammas Lands first thing, managing a paltry six Snipe. Various factors – not least the dry and mild autumn – seem to have reduced numbers here this winter (I had 18 on 22 November last year). However, this was more than made up for with a first-winter Dartford Warbler on Catteshall Meadow – only the third Lammas Lands record. All have been in the last 11 months, prompting me to wonder if this species in fact winters here with some regularity ... The nearest breeding locales are some 6.5 km away so, whatever the case, they are decent records for the site.

Dartford Warbler and a map showing the nearest breeding sites of
the species (pink Xs) to the Lammas Lands (central white dot).

Other bits included two Stonechats, three Fieldfares and four Reed Buntings. Later in the morning I walked Busbridge Lakes for the first time in six years. Wood Lake was very quiet, save two Kingfishers at the west end, though a Brambling in an area of beech trees was good value and a Lesser Redpoll flew over.

Sunday 21st

A pleasant session at Shackleford was done under blue skies and a fresh northerly breeze, with the most notable of 43 species recorded a late Chiffchaff calling in a strip of set aside. Five Bullfinches, a Brambling and two Lesser Redpolls were also seen.

Monday 22nd

Three each of Shoveler and Gadwall were notable at a frosty Frensham Great Pond first thing. I've only seen the latter species twice here this year, which is remarkable given I visit the site roughly once a week. Pochard numbers were down, with only eight tallied, while the Firecrest was still near the outlet pond and two Kingfishers were seen.

Tuesday 23rd

There was a bit of wildfowl turnover at Frensham Great Pond, with a female Goosander and an increase of Pochard up to 13, but no Shoveler or Gadwall were present. A Water Rail called from the eastern reedbed and two Kingfishers flew over.

Drake Pochard.

I walked to Broadwater and back during my lunch break, with a Wigeon out in the middle of the lake a lovely surprise. This scarcest of south-west Surrey ducks is an unpredictable bird locally, this being only my third record all year. An adult and first-winter Great Crested Grebe were also present.

Wednesday 24th

Heavy mist hanged in the air as I did a sweep of local waterbodies in the morning. First up was Snowdenham Mill Pond, which was surprisingly quiet – seven Teal (including some displaying drakes) were my first of the season here, but the only other wildfowl of note was four Mandarin

Tuesley was dead, and Enton Lakes produced a single Kingfisher. At Frensham, Pochard were up to 20 but it was otherwise quiet. An underwhelming morning concluded at Broadwater, where a new Great Crested Grebe (or one that evaded me yesterday) bumped the count up to three.

Thursday 25th

Broadwater at first light produced a flyover Kingfisher and some 148 roosting Canada Geese. I then headed to Frensham Great Pond once more, where Pochard had again increased, this time to 24. An impressive flock of at least 130 Siskins were in alders between the hotel and sailing club, three Firecrests were near the outlet stream and a Kingfisher was at the south end.

Later in the morning I walked Unstead Water Meadows, which are very dry for this time of year. As a result there wasn't much about, though three Water Rails were back in their usual Alder carr winter haunt near Bunkers Hill Farm – my first along the Wey since 14 March. A third Kingfisher of the day was also noted heading downriver.

Dave and I undertook a dusk stakeout at Thursley, which was cold and quiet with only 20 species seen. This did include some relative quality, though, such as a Little Egret heading south-west (presumably to roost at Frensham), two Snipe and Woodcock that came out from Will Reeds to feed on South Bog when it was dark.

Friday 26th

The pack had shuffled a little at Frensham Great Pond, where seven Shoveler were dotted about, as well as another increase of Pochard up to 26. Kingfisher and Firecrest put in their obligatory appearances too. 

Frensham quackers.

Shoveler had perhaps been on the move overnight, with 12 on the house pond at Cutt Mill afterwards. Some 21 Mandarin were also seen, as well as two Kingfishers, though no Goosander were around. My final destination of Tuesley was quiet, though more than 100 gulls included some 70 Common and two Lesser Black-backed.

Saturday 27th

Today a decent waterbird finally made it to south-west Surrey, at Frensham, typically enough on the first day in six I didn't visit the site; a Goldeneye found by Shaun. My personal efforts weren't much to shout about, in freezing and windy conditions as Storm Arwen struck. Snowdenham Mill Pond had four each of Gadwall and Mandarin, as well as my first Kestrel here for more than two and a half years. 


The highlight of the morning came inadvertently while driving through Shackleford – a Little Grebe on the small farm pond by the road. This was the first I've seen on this tiny waterbody; a micro-mega and the type of thing to put a smile on the face of any local patchwatcher. I can't recall seeing one that's retained so much summer plumage at this time of year, either – a nice reminder of warmer times as horizontal sleet fell!

Little Grebe.

Sunday 28th

No observations of note today.

Monday 29th

Another bitterly cold morning, this time with a moderate covering of snow on the ground. Four Mute Swans at Tuesley were presumably displaced from an ice-bound locale overnight, while Frensham Great Pond produced no fewer than 32 Shoveler – my highest-ever local count of this species, which was something to take away from this spell of weather if nothing else. The partially resident drake Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid was at the north end (my first sighting in over a year) and some 17 Pochard were off the hotel. A female Kestrel flew over the A3 near Milford on the way home.

Tuesday 30th

I gave Frensham yet another go this morning, which was much milder than of late. There had been a clear out of ducks: zero Shoveler and Tufted Duck numbers notably down. Two Little Grebes were of note, as was a flyover Crossbill – this species has really dropped off since early summer, and this record was my first locally since 15 October and fourth since mid-June. A Firecrest was again by the outlet stream.

For something a bit different afterwards, I checked Tongham GP and Quay Lake (one of the Frimley pits). The former site had decent numbers of Wigeon and Gadwall, along with nearly 100 Coot. It's not easy to view, but must get good birds. I don't know anyone who properly watches it. Adjacent Aldershot Park, just over the Hampshire border, held a surprise Ring-necked Parakeet and a flyover Raven. Quay Lake was much quieter with nothing of note seen, despite being about twice the size.

Friday, 19 November 2021

Winter is coming

Any hopes that autumn would deliver a late show have gradually diminished during the last 10 days, with things remaining steady in south-west Surrey. Like many birders, my thoughts are slowly turning to 2022 as the days grow shorter and darker, although I hope there will be some good winter birding to be had before then.

Female Sparrowhawk with Starling prey.

Wednesday 10th

Unforecast drizzle and murk meant ringing at Shackleford was a short-lived affair. Unsurprisingly it was quiet, with the highlights in an hour-and-a-half two Bramblings over, a few groups of winter thrushes on the deck and a Sparrowhawk that dashed along a hedgerow.

Thursday 11th

Heavy mist had cleared to bright skies by mid-morning, when I did a quick check of Cutt Mill Ponds. A relatively early Goosander – a drake – was on the house pond, where nine Shoveler and pairs of Mandarin and Tufted Duck were also present.

Sleepy Goosander.

Friday 12th

No birding today.

Saturday 13th

Mid-afternoon I headed up to Longside Lake, near Thorpe, to check an interesting first-winter female Aythya that had been reported as a possible Lesser Scaup. The apparent bird in question was curious-looking, but no more than a small, pale Tufted Duck, with structure and plumage factors (not least the wingbar) confirming this.

At dusk I met with Sam for a catch up at Shackleford. It took a while for things to get going but, when it was properly dark about half an hour after sunset, there was much to see, especially with the help of the thermal imager. A flock of Lapwings – at least 22 – came in to feed, along with a minimum of five Woodcock. Three Little Owls were calling nearby and a male Tawny Owl was hooting, while other bits included two Red-legged Partridges, a Ring-necked Parakeet and a Kestrel

The icing on the cake was a Song Thrush that belted out a few phrases of song late on – the first time I've heard one singing since August and a nice reminder that spring will return again in the not so distant future …

Sunday 14th

It was dull and mild at Tuesley first thing, where two Mute Swans were a surprise – my first on the deck here in more than 18 months. The two Green Sandpipers were about, though typically skittish, and 18 Little Grebes were counted.

Green Sandpipers and Mute Swan.

I then undertook a long walk through the Weald countryside around Hambledon and Loxhill. Court Farm held four Yellowhammers, three Skylarks and a male Stonechat, while a Little Owl and a Bullfinch were at Little Burgate Farm. A triple-figure flock of finches some six species strong was pleasing to see around the cover crops at Burgate Farm. This included at least two Bramblings, 120 or more Linnets and some 70 Chaffinches. A Marsh Tit along Vann Lane rounded off proceedings.

Later on, following Martin K's excellent Caspian Gull find in Guildford this morning, I thought I'd try Tuesley again with the remote possibility the bird had found its way to the flock that loafs there on winter afternoons. Not long after I arrived most gulls took flight, which is pretty typical. Some then started alarm calling – this was rather more unusual but foolishly I didn't properly tune in to it.

A minute or so passed and the gulls settled a bit, with about 10 still in the air swirling around over the water. At this point I spotted a higher bird to the south of the reservoir. I initially thought 'that gull gained height quickly', but upon getting my bins on the bird it became clear it was a large raptor. It then didn't take long to establish that it was a harrier. The build had me confident it wasn't a Marsh Harrier, and this was confirmed during the three or four times it banked, at which point it revealed a clear white rump: Hen Harrier!

The wings were clearly broad – broader and heavier than Pallid (as unlikely as that'd be), which was a useful feature to note given I couldn't count the primary fingers due to the distance. Annoyingly, I was caught off guard by this bird and it was always flying away from me (it would have flown over my head more or less) – I scrambled to get my camera out of my bag after identifying it but, despite seeing it in the viewfinder, I couldn't nail any image in the minute. I lost it in some low cloud in the direction of Milford train station about three minutes after picking it up.

A cool record and I think a first for Tuesley. It's also a south-west Surrey year tick (there's only been two locally in 2021, both passage males at Thursley) and the first I've found on patch since the lovely Shackleford bird in 2019. Tuesley has served me well this year, this being the third county rarity at the site in the last three months. Interestingly, what may well have been the same Hen Harrier was at Pulborough Brooks later on – more on that here.

Monday 15th

It was quiet at Frensham Great Pond first thing, with 17 Pochard and a Kingfisher noted off the hotel. A Firecrest was calling in nearby holly.

Grey Heron.

Tuesday 16th

No birding today.

Wednesday 17th

Early mist quickly burned off to unveil a sunny winter's day at Shackleford where, despite ringing once again being slow, there was plenty to see among 46 species of birds. More than 200 Canada and Greylag Geese flew in to feed in the alfalfa early on, with a hybrid of the two species and a domestic Greylag in among them – classic Surrey goosing.

Shackleford geese.

By far the rarest bird of the day was a Little Egret that flew over Hook Lane – only the third site record and my second. This species seems to have declined ever so slightly locally during the last few years (perhaps to do with some severe cold spells in recent winters?) and this was only my third in the local area this autumn. A Lapwing flushed from the alfalfa was also of note, along with two Bullfinches, three Bramblings and a Ring-necked Parakeet.

A female Sparrowhawk – one of two noted – caught a Starling at close range in the alfalfa, which made for a dramatic observation. Pleasingly, the Skylark flock was up, with some 50 birds in the northern fields alone, meaning at least 60 were on site. An added touch to a fun morning was the few common species that were in song for the first time in months, including Mistle Thrush and Dunnock.

Stonechat and Goldfinch.

Thursday 18th

It was rather chilly as I walked to the Lammas Lands first thing, where six Snipe, two Reed Buntings and – ironically enough after my comment yesterday – two Little Egrets were noted. Afterwards, Frensham Great Pond was an exact copy and paste of Monday: 17 Pochard and a Kingfisher noted off the hotel and Firecrest calling in nearby holly.

Friday 19th

Today my binoculars were heading off to Austria for a service, which meant I needed to be at Swarovski HQ in Redhill at 10 am. As a result, I took the opportunity to explore the far east of Surrey beforehand. The large area of farmland and shooting estates near Woldingham and Chelsham has long intrigued me, not least due to the fact it has turned up Corn Bunting in recent years (which breeds several miles away in Kent). 

A 6 km walk from Warren Barn Farm to Beddlestead House produced 40 species, with astonishing numbers of released gamebirds, corvids and Red Kites the most striking feature. I counted a minimum of 240 Pheasants and 120 Red-legged Partridges, as well as 13 Ravens (including 10 feeding on a Fox carcass) and no fewer than 28 Red Kites – my highest-ever Surrey count – which included 12 sat in the same tree.

In many ways this area (especially around Warren Barn Farm) is like Thorncombe Street, but on steroids; huge, sloping valleys grazed by sheep, small copses, sporadic cover crops and the clear feeling that shooting is king here. However, further towards Beddlestead Valley, it becomes more akin to the Sussex South Downs – big, open arable fields with thick hedgerows. You could certainly imagine Corn Bunting here (I genuinely wouldn't be surprised if they breed, such is the expansive habitat and scant coverage). Today, though, I had to settle for 10 Yellowhammers, which was still very nice indeed.

Other bits of note included a Brambling and Marsh Tit at Pitchers Wood (a second Marsh Tit was singing near Beddlestead House), a juvenile Peregrine overhead, a flock of 85 Fieldfares and 15 Skylarks at Cheverells Farm. An interesting area indeed – I'll be back!

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Southbound harrier musings

On Sunday I was lucky enough to see a ringtail Hen Harrier fly over Milford. The bird was relatively high and heading south-west when I saw it at roughly 14:20. Some 70 minutes later, at approximately 15:30, the first Hen Harrier of the winter appeared at Pulborough Brooks, where it has been loitering since. Coincidence? I don't think so – I suspect it's the same bird.

Hen Harrier is a rare Surrey bird, averaging three or four records a year, almost exclusively on passage. Occasionally, though less so in recent years, a bird or two will winter on the western heaths. Directly south of Surrey, in West Sussex, the only properly regular wintering site for this species is the Arun Valley and the adjacent South Downs (also extending east towards Worthing). So, for any southbound harrier passing through Surrey, it's no surprise they should then rock up somewhere like Pulborough Brooks.

Harrier flightlines: the August Marsh on the left and the recent Hen on the right.

A similar thing happened on 16 August. I had a juvenile Marsh Harrier going south over Shackleford at 08:45; surely the same bird was seen heading south over Thursley Common at 11:00 by Paul O'Mara. Lo and behold, at roughly 17:00 that day, the first juvenile Marsh Harrier of the season was seen at Pulborough Brooks by Matt. Surely the same bird. The species remains a rare (albeit not as much as Hen) and strictly passage bird in Surrey, and, again, the Arun Valley is the closest haunt to this county. So, any southbound bird would see Pulborough as one of the first suitable spots at which to properly pitch up.

The difference in time taken to reach Pulborough can be explained, too. The Marsh Harrier was a leisurely bird, even seen hunting at Shackleford, and generally flying low into a warm southerly headwind. The Hen Harrier, however, was high and backed by a north-easterly tailwind; the weather was also inclement, meaning the bird would have been keen to finish the journey as quickly and efficiently as possible. This highlights the great significance of wind speed and direction, as well as general weather, in bird migration.

This post doesn't really unveil much, but merely attempts to join a small stretch of dots in an otherwise intriguing – and largely unknown – line. Where had these harriers originated? At what point did they enter Surrey? Do they have favoured flightlines that take them to their preferred (or instinctive) wintering grounds, or is it entirely random? We will never know – and that's why bird migration remains a constant fascination.

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

A wintry start to November

The first nine days of November have felt rather wintry for the most part, with a few frosty mornings and birds flocking up. Things have been steady rather than spectacular locally, but this month has a knack for delivering and, pleasingly, the last few days have provided the belief that autumn still has a bit left in the tank, before winter proper moves in.

Woodpigeon movement in the High Weald: perfect local birding in late autumn.

Monday 1st

An ambitious plan to undertake a long-distance twitch in an electric car resulted in a slog of a journey to the top of Scotland. Observations en route included 60 Golden Plovers in a field by Penrith and a skein of 150 or more Pink-footed Geese over the M6 near Gretna. News then broke of the reappearing Eyebrowed Thrush at Kincraig but our slow journey meant we only had 20 or so minutes to try our luck before we needed to push on. We dipped, with a couple of Bramblings noted amid the hundreds of Redwings, but hoped we'd have time for another go on the way home …

Tuesday 2nd

The ferry arrived at Papa Westray about an hour after first light, by which point we were already feeling nervy that the Varied Thrush had left overnight. Our fears were confirmed upon getting to its favoured garden after a thorough search yielded no bird – a dip of the highest order. I was gutted, but didn't take long to see the positive side, namely that I had several hours on a mega island I've always wanted to visit. So, I decided to make the most of the day and challenged myself to a mini Papa Westray big day.

During the next five hours I managed some 54 species, which I was pretty pleased with. This included a super showy first-winter Grey Phalarope on a small pool near Knap of Howar – it was awesome to be alone with such a bird and in such a setting. Other migrants included a female Hawfinch and a flyover Lapland Bunting, while a line-up of non-Surrey exotica featured a flock of Twite, Long-tailed Duck, Whooper SwansBlack Guillemots, Hooded Crows, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers and a ringtail Hen Harrier

Grey Phalarope.

We had a couple of hours to kill on the Orkney mainland before our return ferry so checked some sites I visited when I was here in transit to North Ronaldsay in 2019. Both Echna Loch and Loch of Ayre held a few Long-tailed Duck, Gadwall and Goldeneye, and a Slavonian Grebe was in Weddell Sound. Rain began to fall as we scanned Loch of Kirbister, where a wonderful flock of 300 or more Twite were feeding in winter crops. A couple of Bramblings were among them and two Whooper Swans were on the water.

Slavonian Grebe and Twite.

We then commenced our big journey home, and I pondered if I'd ever want to do a twitch of this scale again (it's easily the furthest I've ever gone for a bird). And no, we didn't get the Eyebrowed Thrush on the way back; my 400th British bird will have to wait …

Wednesday 3rd

No birding today. 

Thursday 4th

It felt wintry at Tuesley this morning, with leaden grey skies and a chilly north-westerly breeze. Two Green Sandpipers flushed upon my arrival, but the real surprise was a Rock Pipit – the second record here of the autumn but only the 11th ever in south-west Surrey! There were hardly any Meadow Pipits about and you'd think this was a new bird to the two that were here from 10-19 October.

Friday 5th

Another week, another quiet visit to Thursley, this time in wonderfully wintry conditions as a hard frost coated the ground under bright skies. Hoped for vis-mig never happened, though a few Woodpigeon flocks and a group of 45 Fieldfares flew west. Other bits included two Water Rails on Ockley, a late Chiffchaff in Woodpigeon Wood and a Sparrowhawk.

Saturday 6th

On the way to Shackleford, an impressive and unusual sight was a flock of 40 Mandarin over the A3 near Eashing – presumably birds disturbed from roost along the Wey. It was grey and cool at the Love Shack, where some notable vis-mig overhead mainly involved Redwings and Woodpigeons, with a few hundred of each species detected. A single flock of 35 Fieldfares also moved west

Things were generally steady, but two farmland species were of note: Yellowhammer and Lapwing. The Yellowhammers – two of them – briefly dropped into Cuckoo Corner, while the lone Lapwing landed in the northern fields after arriving from a great height. I spent a while watching the latter, which is a real favourite of mine and in steep decline locally. Having pondered the status of both species I was inspired to write a dedicated post to avoid clogging this one up – you can read it here.

Lonely Lapwing.

Afterwards, I tried my luck looking for Bittern at Frensham Little Pond with a thermal imager. I didn't have any joy, but I reckon this method may eventually prove successful in locating what is perhaps south-west Surrey's most elusive wintering species. Singles of Water Rail and Kingfisher were noted, while the Great Pond held three Pochard, another Kingfisher and an impressive raft of 76 Coot.

Sunday 7th

No sightings of note today.

Monday 8th

It was a crisp autumn morning as I took up a position on the southern slope of The Hurtwood for an overdue vis-mig session. This birding niche was a staple when I patched Thorncombe Street but I've found myself doing it less during the last couple of years. I think you need a consistent watchpoint to make it worthwhile (and to be fair it was the best form of birding at Thorncombe Street!), but it's something I love doing, so I'm going to be sure to weave it into my autumn 2022 birding ... A bit more about Surrey vis-mig can be read here.

Anyway, the hour-long watch was fairly quiet, save a decent westerly push of Woodpigeons that totalled some 3,280 birds. It was intense early on, but by 8 am had fizzled out. Chaffinches, Redwings and Starlings were also moving, while Greylag Goose (two) and Cormorant (three) were novel records for The Hurtwood. A Yellowhammer and some 65 Linnets were in the cover crop below my watchpoint.


Up on the hill itself I was pleased to – eventually – locate a Dartford Warbler. This species colonised the new clear fell area as recently as last year, but the sole pair were very tricky customers this summer and this was my first sighting since 30 April. Some seven finch species included at least 11 Bramblings knocking about; there are some good stands of Beech on the north side so maybe a small flock will linger here this winter. A male Stonechat and good numbers of Jay, a theme of autumn 2021, were also noted.

Tuesday 9th

It was much milder this morning. A walk along the Lammas Lands was fairly quiet, though a flyover Brambling was a nice surprise and a first for me at this site (it's a rare bird along the Wey near Godalming). Flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing pushed west, a large group of Siskins worked the towpath alders and seven Snipe – my first along the river since 27 April – were counted.

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Lapwing and Yellowhammer in south-west Surrey

Lapwing and Yellowhammer are two British species synonymous with farmland. By default this means that, sadly, they're also synonymous with decline. I noted both of these smart birds at Shackleford yesterday – nothing particularly unusual about that – but it led me on a train of thought that resulted in a desire to write a short post on the status of each species locally. Angus, the farmer at Shackleford, is really keen to lure both back as breeding birds. Hopefully he can ...

Yellowhammer, Hambledon farmland, May 2020.


Lapwing is one of my favourite species. It is in steep decline in Britain – more than 50% since 1983 – with farming changes and intensification to blame. As a child, I remember going for walks in random, nondescript parts of the Surrey countryside in the summer and seeing breeding birds. Three-figure flocks of post-breeders would gather at Unstead SF in the early 2000s. If I went the back way to school in the mid-2000s thousands (literally!) would be seen in the fields at Tuesley Farm. It's a very different picture now and, even in the last five years, I'd say I've noticed a year-by-year decline. 

In the winter, only three sites in south-west Surrey regularly hold a proper flock. Shackleford, where numbers fluctuate, and Loseley support between 30-80 birds – but it's very possible these are the same individuals moving between what are two nearby sites. The other locale is a series of fields east of Dunsfold Aerodrome – these are due for development and will be lost in time. Another site is along the Wey between Unstead SF and Peasmarsh, but numbers here are much smaller and depend on water levels.

Dunsfold is also one of a tiny handful of breeding sites but won't be for long, as Dunsfold Park village is created. Indeed, the main field the birds use is to become a road. This year, a pair held fort at Pudmore, Thursley Common, until late May but it wasn't thought they were successful. Another pair attempted to breed along the Wey at Waverley Abbey but the outcome is unknown. So, of these sites, one will be bulldozed soon and another was only a temporary option (Pudmore being closed to the public this spring was crucial to luring in Lapwings; I'll be amazed if any return next spring). 

The future of the species as a breeder in south-west Surrey looks bleak. The winter flocks seem relatively stable – and post-breeding records remain consistent – but even on passage this bird appears to be on the decline. I've seen Lapwing pairs linger at Shackleford into late March and even engage in some display. Farm management plans for the years ahead may well tempt birds to nest, but to be honest I reckon this is unlikely. Indeed, in the decades to come Lapwing could become a rare sight in south-west Surrey, as the tiny breeding outposts evaporate and winter numbers decline.

Lapwings, Shackleford, November 2019.


Yellowhammer is a different case to Lapwing, not least because of the apparent strength of the population south of the High Weald Ridge. South of an imaginary line between Churt and Smithbrook Kiln this species is encountered with some frequency – the farmland around villages like Chiddingfold, Dunsfold and Hambledon hold relatively healthy numbers.

North of said line, however, there is a clear pattern of decline and population fragmentation. In the last decade alone there is an alarming rollcall of sites that have lost Yellowhammer as a breeding bird: Frensham, Puttenham and Thursley Commons, Tuesley Farm and the North Downs at Loseley all used to support decent sized colonies but are now vacant. The Puttenham decline was particularly stark and is thought to be due to the removal of winter stubble from nearby farmland.

Strangely, there is still one south-western heath that has a small breeding colony: Witley Common, where three males held fort this year. The retention of this population provides hope that they could spread – indeed, Yellowhammer bred at neighbouring Mare Hill in 2015 (habitat improvement there could see them return) and a male was singing at adjacent Thursley Common this May (albeit for one day). Technically, farmland south of Hydestile and at Palmers Cross (south of Thorncombe Street) are above the imaginary High Weald line, but these are really Low Weald sites and part of that population that runs into West Sussex. So, Witley Common is a real anomaly.

All of this means things shouldn't look great for Yellowhammer returning to Shackleford as a breeding bird, but I think there's a chance. Importantly, there remains a stable breeding population just the other side of the North Downs at Wanborough – not far at all as the bunting flies and I suspect this is the location behind wintering birds at Shackleford (of which there are a handful). I can envisage singing and nesting Yellowhammers in the thick hedgerows at Shackleford one day – and what a gain that would be.