Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Saturday 31 December 2022

A quiet end to the year

It's been a quiet end to the year, with only one local birding session during the past week, which has been rather wet. On the whole, 2022 has been enjoyable – both from a local perspective (which takes up 90% of my birding these days) and further afield. Here's to 2023.

Pink-footed Geese in Norfolk.

Sunday 25th

A couple of quick scans of the sea in Felpham produced two Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and decent numbers of Gannets, Brent Geese and Mediterranean Gulls early afternoon. A Rock Pipit flew over the garden as well.

Monday 26th

A sunny walk around Chiddingfold Forest was fairly quiet on the bird front, though a male Hawfinch was a pleasing – albeit typically brief – sight at The Triangle. It's safe to say 2022 has been my best year for this species locally since the 2017-18 influx. Five Marsh Tits included a couple in song, but very few finches were about – not a single Siskin or redpoll were seen.

Tuesday 27th

I managed one of my better 'from the car' records en route to a family thing today: a ringtail Hen Harrier over the M4 near Reading!

Wednesday 28th

No birding.

Thursday 29th

Dave, Matt, Sam and I headed to north Norfolk for a big day in the field. I hadn't visited the county for three years and it was good to be back, even if it wasn't a classic winter trip. After logging no fewer than three Barn Owls en route, we started at Titchwell, where we scored 65 species. This included typical fare for this cracking site, such as Pink-footed Geese, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Bearded Tits and Water Pipits.

Next up was Brancaster Marsh, where we managed an underwhelming encounter with the wintering Hume's Leaf Warbler in the increasingly windy conditions. It was then on to Holkham, which was extraordinarily busy – it was like a London park on a weekend, with masses of dogs. The birding began along Lady Anne's Drive, where Barnacle Geese, Great Egrets, Grey Partridges, Peregrine and a released White-tailed Eagle highlighted.

Great Egret, Wigeon, Grey Partridge and White-tailed Eagle.

Rather depressingly the classic winter passerines require a roped off area these days at Holkham Gap and it was here that we located the wintering flock of 11 Shore Larks. This species is always a real treat to see. The sea was choppy, but we were able to prize out a couple of Long-tailed Duck, a Slavonian Grebe and an Eider among the more typical fare, which included plenty of Red-breasted Merganser.

Shore Larks.

We then diverted inland to Glandford, to CleySpy, where a day-roosting Long-eared Owl has just been found in their outdoor viewing area – apparently only the second twitchable one in Norfolk this year!

Long-eared Owl.

At this point we decided to sack off Stubb's Mill and the Crane roost, opting for Warham Greens instead. Here, we immediately scored our target – the juvenile female Pallid Harrier. Despite being my fourth in Britain (and second in Norfolk), these were easily my best British views of the species. It won't be long until Surrey scores another of these beauties – hopefully at Thursley! A ringtail Hen Harrier was also present here.

Pallid Harrier and Brent Geese.

We ended the day back at Titchwell, where Whooper Swan was the only notable addition to a decent day list total of 106. In all, a fun outing, but there was an element of sad reflection when comparing it to winter Norfolk trips from years gone by – masses of people, no Snow Buntings, no Twite, no other grey geese species and a tiny wintering flock of Shore Larks only persisting due to a cordoned off section of saltmarsh …

Friday 30th

No birding.

Saturday 31st

No birding.

2022 in review

2022 was pretty enjoyable in birding terms. My core area – south-west Surrey (SWS) – produced plenty of quality moments and satisfying finds. Within that, my new '1-km' Eashing area patch was a revelation in terms of reconnecting with the core patch feeling, which I haven't had since calling it a day at Thorncombe Street. The only minor blemish on 2022 was missing a few good county birds. You can't have it all though!

Wood Sandpiper at Thursley.

South-West Surrey

Year list total: 158

I found 2021 rather frustrating in SWS, so 2022 marked a welcome return for form. 158 is actually a very good tally, too – only one behind my 2020 big year total. The weather was less than ideal in large parts, including a spring of high pressure and many migrant-less mornings, a boiling hot summer and a westerly dominated October and November. One theme of 2022, however, was that when the birding was good, it was really good, often in relatively short bursts too (i.e. late March, early May and mid-August to early September).

Five SWS lifers were good going as well (c.f. three in 2021): Sandwich Tern, Turnstone, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and Black Tern. That three of them were self-found makes them all the more sweeter. I didn't find a showstopper rarity in 2022, but the relatively consistent spread of highly satisfying local finds throughout the year negated this. Another positive was that I didn't miss anything significant (versus missing some absolute megas in 2021!). In total I missed three species, meaning the SWS 2022 total is 161 (c.f. 163 in 2021 and 167 in 2020).

Sandwich Tern.

Studying rare breeders is a big part of my birding and 2022 was relatively good in this respect, though not as productive as 2021. I failed to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nest or confirm breeding Hawfinch and Turtle Dove, but did manage to (finally) pin down a Goshawk nest (and monitor another), came very close to doing the same for Honey Buzzard and confirmed nesting of a few other rare county breeders (Snipe, Teal, Curlew etc).

For the second year in a row, vis-mig was fairly dire. We can only hope we get an overdue good autumn in 2023 …

It's hard to pick a top five moments, but here goes (in no order):

March Garganey at Tuesley

One of my favourite species, I've always wanted to find Garganey locally, and it happened on 21 March when two drakes and a female appeared out of the early morning mist. I couldn't have dreamed they'd be as confiding as they were, too, as they spent the day on site. A perfect start to spring.


Pudmore wader-fest in September

Finding a juvenile Ruff at Thursley on 1 September was a year highlight on its own. However, the next day it was joined by a juvenile Wood Sandpiper – and a seriously showy one too. The next couple of weeks saw these local rarities (mega in the case of Ruff!) grace Pudmore, which was exceptionally muddy due to the dry summer. This was also the last summer that the boardwalks were down post-2020 fire, meaning the birds were tamer than usual.

Ring recoveries

Kind of merging two in one here, but it was hugely satisfying to trace the rings of two rare birds: the Thursley Wryneck from late August (ringed in Suffolk; see here) and a male Honey Buzzard (ringed four years ago as a chick on a nest some 15 km away from where I saw it).

Honey Buzzard.

A certain Goshawk pair

Having kept tabs (or, rather, been given the run around!) by a particular pair of Goshawks for a number of years now, it was a true joy to finally nail the nest and then accompany Jeremy to ring the two chicks.

Tuesley Turnstone

After weeks of tiring graft, my big spring passage reward came just before I left for Lapland – a simply spanking summer-plumage male Turnstone at Tuesley, that showed like a charm in the evening sunshine. Only the 12th for SWS and the first in a decade.


There were plenty of other cracking moments too. Some of them include cashing in on the August Pied Flycatcher influx (two finds and a third bird seen), the bumper spring Whimbrel passage, finding Thursley's first (and SWS's 12th) Rock Pipit and so on.

Eashing 1-km

Year list total: 111

After we moved to Eashing in January, I decided to draw up a rough 'Eashing area' patch and study the birds in it. This proved incredibly fun! It was like having a patch within a patch. It provided all the micro-level quirks that only patch-watching can – a feeling I've missed since leaving Thorncombe Street. 

Having such a connection with a place and time, and learning the context of the birds within that, gives probably the most uplifting feeling I've personally found within birding. An added bonus is that all the birding can be done on foot from my front door.

As mentioned, I've done an Eashing area bird report for 2022 and will post/link it here soon. My target for the year was 90 species – I surpassed that by quite a stretch! There were innumerable highlights, but five of the best are below …

Bumper Eashing Fields vis-mig

In an autumn of poor vis-mig, an epic session at Eashing Fields on 21 October produced various highlights, the best of all was a flock of 15 Brent Geese heading west during a squall. All the way from Russia – mega! Add in a Woodlark (the only 2022 record), 1,500 Redwings, two Bramblings and three Mute Swans to make for a quality session.

Brent Geese.

Winter wonderland along the Wey

An hour-along the Wey on 14 December in glorious, frosty conditions produced an extraordinary run of patch goodies. A flock of 17 Lapwings, a Woodcock, three Snipe, two Mute Swans, a Little Grebe, a Peregrine, a Water Rail and a Little Egret all led up to the grand finale – a Jack Snipe at Eashing Marsh.

After work Wheatear

Following a day of work on 28 March, I popped up to Eashing Fields and one of the first birds I saw was a cracking male Wheatear along a fence line. Literally a few hundred metres from home, this symbolic commencement of spring is always a year highlight. A whacky sighting of a Shoveler pair high overhead shortly after added to the visit.


Whinchat extravaganza

August and September saw bumper numbers of Whinchat pass through Surrey, and Eashing Fields was cashing in. On 2 September I counted a minimum of nine – easily a Surrey high count for me. An adult Hobby and a Yellow Wagtail contributed to that glorious late summer/early autumn feel.

Double at the res

A rainy visit to Eashing Farm on 14 September resulted in a mad 10-minute spell by the reservoir. First, a juvenile Osprey flew low south-west, affording brilliant views. Shortly after, a Ringed Plover zipped through south. A crazy double-act.


Also, a very honourable mention to the two Marsh Harriers over the Wey on 24 September, a Great Crested Grebe over my garden on 12 October, no fewer than three Hawfinch records and the Dartford Warbler at Eashing Fields on my first ever visit to the site in mid-January.


It was a poor year for vice-county ticks. Thankfully I connected with the gettable 'big one': a stunning Lesser Yellowlegs at Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir on 2 June (thanks Chris!). Only the second for Surrey (and first since 1984), this came during a mad little spell of county megas – annoyingly I didn't score the other two! 

Lesser Yellowlegs.

The other 'big one' was an Icterine Warbler that was suppressed at Leith Hill on 3 June. It's probably less likely to occur than lesserlegs … merely two days later, I missed a Purple Heron at Beddington by five minutes. These are such slippery customers in Britain – this is now the third I've dipped (Purple Heron remains the most obvious absentee from my British list). 

I also dipped the Tice's Spoonbill in late May, which flew off about half an hour before I was due to arrive straight from Gatwick! Finally, rounding off a year of VC dips, I missed the South Bank Guillemot in September (although a fun, green twitch was enjoyed!).

The only other county tick I managed was Black Tern (at Frensham, found by Shaun), which was the striking omission from my Surrey list (borne out of the fact I refused to go for one outside of SW Surrey). 

Black Tern.

Now I'm on 230 for the vice-county, the law of diminishing returns means I shouldn't expect a hatful of county ticks each year. However, given I added eight new birds in 2020 and seven in 2021, two in 2022 is a less than ideal return. Hopefully 2023 is better in this department!

Saturday 24 December 2022

Reverting to type

The first two weeks of December were a veritable winter wonderland in terms of weather – with fairly decent birding to boot – but the last 10 days has seen a return to more typical modern-day conditions. That means mild temperatures, rain and grey skies. There's still been bits and pieces to see, however, as 2022 winds down.

Water Rail.

Thursday 15th

After yesterday's excitement it was much quieter along the Wey at Eashing this morning, which was a biting -8°C when I set out. Highlights included a Marsh Tit in the alder carr, a Firecrest in Milton Wood, the Mute Swan pair and a Ring-necked Parakeet over Weir Marsh.

I continued on to the Lammas Lands, where one Snipe was braving it out on Overgone Meadow, before heading home.

Black-headed Gulls.

Friday 16th

It was somehow even colder this morning, which saw Tuesley frozen over for the first time since its construction a decade ago. Eight Pochard and a site record 18 Coot were huddled on the tiny sliver of unfrozen water.

I then walked Thursley, just about managing 22 species during a rather bird-less – albeit beautiful – hour in the frost. I was surprised to see four Dartford Warblers during the session.

Thursley Common.

Later on, a few House Sparrows visited our feeders – an uncommon species on this side of the village.

Saturday 17th

I walked along the river once more this morning, which once again was freezing cold and frosty. The Mute Swan pair were still about and a Marsh Tit was heard, but it was looking like a quiet one until I got to Greenways Farm. There, two northbound ducks transpired to be a Goosander pair. Yet another cold weather sign, these were a new Eashing bird for me – and number 110 for my 1-km this year. 

Goosander and the Wey at Eashing.

December has been productive around here to say the least, with no fewer than four Eashing area ticks and a swathe of other good records. A look through the history books suggests these birds to be the first Goosander in Eashing since 1838!

Saturday 18th

The first morning in two weeks without a fresh frost gradually transitioned to typical winter weather: grey, damp and mild. I met up with Kit for a few hours birding in his neck of the woods, starting at Shalford Water Meadows, where a surprise drake Wigeon was showing well on the Wey. It had likely moved from more typical haunts due to the big freeze.


A flock of seven Lapwings east was another decent record, with other bits including singles of Snipe, Teal and Chiffchaff and 13 Cormorants.

We then headed to Unstead SF – only my second visit of 2022 to my former stomping ground. Four Water Rails performed superbly at the southern end of Dry Lagoon but it was otherwise quiet, save a Chiffchaff by the works and a flyover Snipe.

Water Rail.

Monday 19th

No birding.

Tuesday 20th

No birding. 

Wednesday 21st

The water levels were exceptionally high along the Wey at Eashing when I met Matt for some late afternoon birding. The banks had burst in various places and lots of temporary pools had appeared, so perhaps it wasn't as much of a surprise as it felt when a Green Sandpiper took off from one of them.

Green Sandpiper.

Yet another Eashing area first this December, which has proved excellent in my 1-km, we enjoyed multiple views as it skittishly whizzed up and down the river during our session. 

Other bits of note included the continuing Mute Swan pair enjoying the floods and a Reed Bunting (surprisingly uncommon along the Wey here).

We then headed to Shackleford for a dusk stakeout. Two Little Owls were vocalising after dark and a few Lapwings were heard as well. When we were leaving, a Woodcock flashed low in front of the car headlights before dropping into one of the fields.

Thursday 22nd

Before work I popped down to see if the Green Sandpiper was still there. It was, but water levels were much reduced, and I suspect it'll be gone soon. 

Green Sandpiper.

A drizzly, gloomy walk was otherwise fairly quiet, save a Marsh Tit and a Firecrest in the same locations as on 15th and the Mute Swan pair. A drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker befitted the date – the winter solstice was yesterday.

Friday 23rd

No birding.

Saturday 24th

With Dave still needing Wigeon for his south-west Surrey year list, I joined him this morning on a trip to Wrecclesham Floods. The water levels were high and thus plenty of Wigeon were about – at least 50 but possibly as many as 70. Four Little Egrets were seen as well.

We worked our way back via an area of farmland neither of us had been to before between Spreakley and Dockenfield. A small Linnet flock and a Reed Bunting were noted here.

We finished off at Frensham Great Pond, where a count of 11 Pochard was reflective of the paltry Aythya numbers currently in our area.

A mid-afternoon stroll along the river was quiet, though a Red-legged Partridge (not in a pear tree alas) showed well at Greenways.

Red-legged Partridge.

Wednesday 14 December 2022

Proper winter

The last fortnight has been lovely and wintry. It's the first December in years that's produced properly 'old-school' winter weather, with consecutive days of hard frost and temperatures below zero. Being outdoors has been enjoyable as a result, and while it may not have produced the hard weather movements and influxes that were perhaps anticipated, it's still been good fun.

Drake Goldeneye.

Thursday 1st

No birding.

Friday 2nd

After a busy week it was nice to get out his morning, with the fog holding off as well. Upon my arrival at Frensham Great Pond one of the first things I picked up was two Brent Geese in the north-east corner. The birds – both adults – seemed settled. However, a few swimmers appeared and, inevitably, the birds spooked and took of west.

Brent Geese.

Only the second south-west Surrey record of the year, apparently they were not present at first light (per Shaun) and had presumably dropped in, doubtless due to the easterlies and relative murk. A pleasing encounter, though it was a shame they didn't stick for others.

Brent Geese.

I totted up 10 Pochard – my highest local count of the second winter period – but there wasn't much else of note in the wildfowl department. The Cetti's Warbler called from the south-east reedbed as well.

A mid-afternoon walk around Thursley was very quiet, with a couple of Lesser Redpolls highlighting.

Saturday 3rd

It felt wintry at Shackleford this morning, with a chilly breeze and dull, grey skies. Decent numbers of birds were in the fields, including an impressive 250 Fieldfares. A minimum of 100 Skylarks were also present, along with 180 Redwings, 160 Starlings and 11 Lapwings. The wintering Dartford Warbler duo were near Chalk Lane as well.

Dartford Warbler.

I elongated my walk home to incorporate a couple of 1 km sites. Things were generally quiet, but a tremendous surprise was to be had Eashing Farm reservoir: a stunning drake Goldeneye! It was a seriously incongruous sight as it swam about on this tiny water body.


Unfortunately, the local status of Goldeneye is blurred by some nearby escapes last year, so the origin of this bird is unknown. It was very skittish, though (eventually departing high east), and arrived on a day of cold, northerly winds. Who knows …

Sunday 4th

A quick morning check of Eashing Farm confirmed that the Goldeneye hadn't returned. The two Little Grebes were still on the reservoir but, best of all, an adult Lapwing was in Game Field. Another new Eashing bird for me (and number 108 for 2022), I suspect this species may become more evident in the coming weeks if the cold forecast comes off …


Monday 5th

No birding.

Tuesday 6th

The Eashing Fields Linnet flock was up to 120 (or more) this morning – a lovely sight. Some late, light northerly Woodpigeon movement was taking place as well, with at least 400 counted.

Wednesday 7th

It looks like it could be another poor winter for Snipe on the Lammas Lands, with only 11 detected in the relatively sparse areas of suitable habitat on Catteshall Meadow this morning. Other bits of note included a Chiffchaff, two Lesser Redpolls, a Little Egret and 25 Linnets from roost.

At dusk, a Little Owl and two Tawny Owls were vocalising at Eashing Fields.

Thursday 8th

It was a beautiful, frosty morning at Frensham Great Pond, where a drake Goosander was 'snorkelling' for prey along the south side. Wildfowl numbers were still fairly low, though, with only seven Pochard present. Singles of Little Egret and Kingfisher were also seen.

Drake Goosander.
Friday 9th

Another bitterly cold morning produced a record of note in the 1-km: two adult Mute Swans on Eashing Farm reservoir, only my second Eashing record of the year. There was no sign of the Little Grebes.

Eashing Fields was quiet in the heavy frost, though 110 Linnets and 90 Goldfinches were in Top Field.

Saturday 10th

Snowdenham Mill Pond is usually one of the last local waterbodies to freeze over so I headed there this morning, which was as beautiful as it was cold – sunny, frosty landscapes with the temperature -6°C when I set out. En route I had to stop at Allden's Hill to take in the view, which was spectacular as expected. A group of 11 Cormorants and 20 Common Gulls drifted west too.

Cormorants over Allden's Hill.

The pond was 90% frozen so there wasn't much doing, with a handful of Shoveler, Teal and Mandarin huddled on the sliver of open water at the south end. 

I popped into Broadwater afterwards – it too was largely frozen, though the Great Crested Grebe pair were hanging on.

Upon my return home I opted for a walk along the Wey and was rewarded with a Teal on the river at Sandy Bends – very much a sign of displacement and only my third 1-km record this year. It was otherwise quiet, but the wintry scenery made up for that.

Later in the morning, a Little Egret on the pool out the back of our garden was a welcome and unexpected garden tick.

Little Egret.

Sunday 11th

No birding.

Monday 12th

No birding.

Tuesday 13th

It was still bitterly cold this morning – the temperature sitting at -5°C when I left the house – following two days of continued freezing conditions. With the day off, I headed to Tuesley first, where a surprise drake Gadwall was with a small group of Mallards – my first record here. Six Pochard were very much of note as well.


I visited Shackleford next, which appeared to be an icy wasteland upon an initial scan. A chilly hour around the fields revealed signs of life, however, including a fantastic flock of 200 or more Skylarks. Some 120 Pied Wagtails was an unusual count as well, but signs of cold weather movement were restricted to three Lapwings in the alfalfa and a steady westerly passage of Stock Doves


Next up was a coffee and sky-watch from Puttenham Common, though there was little of note aside more Stock Doves on the move and two vocal Dartford Warblers just south of my viewpoint.

Chilly, and with little evidence of cold weather movement, I headed home, opting to walk back via Eashing Fields. This proved worth it! It too seemed quiet initially, but I was pleased to pick up a Lapwing drifting north-east over The Meadow – my first at this site and only my second in the 1-km, following the bird at Eashing Farm on 4th.


Better was to come shortly after, though, as I picked up a Snipe darting around. A whacky sighting, this was also a site first (and surprisingly only my second in the Eashing area this year) and clearly a bird frozen out of a more typical haunt. It eventually dropped down towards the river. 

A crazy 10-minute spell was wrapped up when a male Peregrine dashed east, to the south – the third Eashing Fields tick of the session! I suspect this might be the bird wintering in the Godalming area at present.


Very satisfied with this 1-km haul, I was ready to descend home when the icing on the cake flew low east over Top Field: a vocal Hawfinch. This individual adds to the bafflingly bumper second winter period this species is having locally. Incredibly, it's my third in the Eashing area this year.

Hawfinch and Stonechat.

A Lapwing was seen looking out of place on a front lawn in Eashing late afternoon.

Wednesday 14th

A pre-work walk along the Wey this morning turned into an epic 1-km session, with surprises seemingly every few hundred metres. It began well, with the male Peregrine dashing over Lower Eashing Meadows.

This was followed by two Mute Swans on the river near Eashing Bridge – presumably the birds that were recently at Eashing Farm reservoir. A little further upriver was an unexpected Little Grebe, and then the first of three Snipe flushed from the riverbank. Three new species for me along the Wey here in the space of 10 minutes!

Mute Swans.

Continuing north, I picked up a flock of 17 Lapwings going high north-east – yet another river tick. Five Cormorants were a notable count for the area, and plenty of Stock Doves were in evidence again. Upon getting to Eashing Marsh, a Little Egret flew out from a ditch, followed by a lump of a Woodcock that crashed out from beneath my feet.


This was a hugely satisfying walk now, all just several hundred metres from home. I didn't think it'd get any better, but it did – to my great surprise, the next bird flushed was a Jack Snipe! There is very little suitable snipe habitat along this stretch of the Wey and this was a blockbuster record – seemingly the first for the Eashing area, too. Fantastic stuff.

By now I was racing to get back to work, but I still managed to add my third 1-km Water Rail of the year, helping me reach a species total of 48 this morning. Patch-birding at its very best!

Later in the day, a group of eight Lapwings flew north over Eashing Fields.