Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 31 January 2022

Getting to know you

January has flown by. The month has been unusually dry, with plenty of bright, crisp winter days to boot, meaning time in the field has often been rather pleasant. Getting to know the new sites close to home and a few early signs of spring have added to the enjoyable flavour 2022 has so far conjured up.

Fieldfare and frost.

Monday 17th

The January fall moon shone spectacularly over Hambledon at first light, where a light frost was on the ground. A walk around the arable farmland east of the village produced a few good bits, including three Yellowhammers at Court Farm (perhaps the most reliable site for this species locally), two Reed Buntings, flyover Bramblings and Lesser Redpolls (two of each) and Bullfinch. Good numbers of Redwings were nervously moving from field to field, perhaps on edge due to the presence of a female Sparrowhawk.

January full moon.

From there I climbed up Hydon's Ball, where a Lesser Redpoll looked set to highlight until, close to the car park, I bumped into two Marsh Tits. I've never recorded this species here before and it's pleasing to unearth them at new sites, especially away from the Low Weald stronghold. The birds, perhaps a pair, included a singing male. I'm aware of only four other sites within a 4 km radius of Godalming that still supports this declining species.

As I was back in Farncombe today I decided to walk to the Lammas Lands at dusk. It was a beautiful evening and a Little Egret high south-west – presumably to roost somewhere – was good value. I got the thermal imager out when it got properly dark. A few Snipe were flying around but a mega reward came at 17:35 (70 minutes after sunset) when a Barn Owl ghosted through north-east, calling to boot. This is a truly enigmatic species locally and very hard to pin down – my last at the Lammas Lands was in April 2019.

Tuesday 18th 

I popped to Eashing Fields mid-morning, where a heavy frost was still coating the ground. Good numbers of birds in the top field included 45 Fieldfares and at least 10 Skylarks – the latter a very pleasing count. The Stonechat pair were still about, but perhaps unsurprisingly there was no sign of the Dartford Warbler from last week. The session was capped off by a surprise Little Egret heading south.

Little Egret and Stonechat.

Wednesday 19th

It was much milder as I walked along the river from Eashing this morning, which doubtless contributed to a decent 41 species being logged. Highlights included at least two Marsh Tits (one of which was a singing male), three Mandarin, a (the?) Woodcock flushed from the same ditch as on 12th, two flyover Ravens, some noisy Jays and a singing Red-legged Partridge.

Near the end of the walk, I heard a weird vocalisation – almost like a Marsh Tit mixed call / song. I wasn't overly surprised to find that the perpetrator was a Great Tit. It was a pretty good impression – just a touch more forceful and less drawn out than a Marsh Tit song, and too rapid-fire and loud for a quick series of calls. Some research led me to a paper (Aymi & Riera, 2019) that revealed that, from a sample of Great Tit mimicry cases, Marsh Tit was the second commonest species impersonated.

Thursday 20th

It was cold again this morning. The alfalfa at Shackleford held decent numbers of birds, including 30 or more Skylarks, some 100 winter thrushes and at least 50 Meadow Pipits, the latter count proving my highest local mipit tally of the winter. Four Stonechats were also present. Walking through Peper Harow on the way home produced Ring-necked Parakeet and an unexpected group of 30 Skylarks.

Friday 21st

The temperature dropped as low as -5°C overnight and it was no surprise that Frensham Great Pond was half frozen first thing. More unexpected was a roosting flock of some 82 Canada Geese – perhaps frozen out of a more usual haunt – with a lone Barnacle Goose among them. This is my first local encounter of a feral 'barnie' since September 2020. Five Shoveler and four Pochard were noted among lower than usual numbers of wildfowl, but it was otherwise quiet.

Saturday 22nd

It was a grey and cold winter's morning at Puttenham Common, the journey to which included a Red-legged Partridge running over Suffield Lane. Aside from dogwalkers the common was rather quiet, despite 41 species being noted. Highlights included a flyover Lesser Redpoll and a hooting Tawny Owl, with Cutt Mill holding a Shoveler pair on the house pond, a Kingfisher at The Tarn and 15 Goosander – my highest local count of the winter – across both. A drake of the latter species displayed briefly too.


I walked home via Shackleford, where I inadvertently racked up 45 species, meaning my morning stroll ended on a nice round 60 in total. The best bits here included a calling Little Owl and a female Brambling that showed well – albeit briefly – in a flock of Chaffinches. Singles of Raven and Kestrel, 10 Teal and two Ring-necked Parakeets were also noted.

Sunday 23rd

Enton Lakes was quiet first thing, with Kingfisher and Lesser Redpoll highlighting. I then walked the woodland south of Hambledon, where an excellent number of Marsh Tits were located – at least seven around Hambledon Hurst but possibly double-figures. There wasn't much else to report, save a handful of Lesser Redpolls. Some 220 Common Gulls at Milford were of note on the way home, representing my biggest local flock since 2017.

Monday 24th

A Shalford Snipe-stomp failed to deliver, with only six birds seen and no hint of any Jacks. However, four Wigeon on St Catherine's Pool were very notable – my first for the site, which scores this local scarcity once or twice a year. Five Shoveler and two Water Rails were also about.


Tuesday 25th

A very quiet morning of ringing at Shackleford was livened up by the presence of two first-winter Redwings in the nets. Other bits of note included a singing Red-legged Partridge, 17 Linnets and a Reed Bunting.


Wednesday 26th

I walked from the Lammas Lands (Overgone Meadow) to Eashing before work, notching up 46 species. Overgone was very quiet (and dry), with zero Snipe present. Five Reed Buntings – including a singing male – and a female Kestrel were the best bits there.

Things were livelier along the Eashing stretch, with the clear highlight a male Brambling amid a flock of Chaffinches in alders at Weir Marsh – very much a bonus 1 km from home bird. A calling Water Rail here was also good value. Other bits included a Marsh Tit pair, five Bullfinches, 90 or so Siskins, singles of Grey Wagtail and Linnet, 14 Mandarin and 70 Redwings.

Marsh Tit.

Thursday 27th

Despite 41 species seen it felt quiet during a two-hour session at Thursley Common this morning, where Woodcock (flushed near Pine Island), 10 Woodlarks (including four in song), two Lesser Redpolls and nine Egyptian Geese stood out as the best bits. 

Later in the day, two Ravens cruising west over Eashing marked a garden tick, with singles of Sparrowhawk and Kestrel also seen.


Friday 28th

No birding today.

Saturday 29th

A windy but wonderful wander in the Weald this morning, with the mild conditions and eventual blue skies giving off more than a faint whiff of spring. I was seeking raptors and no fewer than six species were on the wing, which included a superb Goshawk encounter. A pair went berserk upon the arrival in their airspace of an immature female – seemingly a 'first adult' (third-year) – with intense display and aerial dogfighting taking place for several minutes before the adult female drove the youngster away.

Goshawk action.

No matter how many times I see this species, which is an absolute favourite of mine, the excitement of being in their presence never wanes. Truly special birds. A juvenile Peregrine was also of significance. While always scarce in south-west Surrey, this was my first record locally since 5 September – and only my second since April!


Other bits from a quality session included two Bramblings, Yellowhammer, three Marsh Tits, an interacting pair of Ravens, two Kestrels and a male Sparrowhawk. The morning was capped off by my first butterfly of the year: a Red Admiral.

Later on, an impressive flock of 100 or so Linnets were flying around Eashing Farm. At night, a female Tawny Owl was calling in the garden.

Sunday 30th

I walked some of the 'lesser' local commons this morning, which was frosty and bright. I started at Royal Common where seven Goosander were a bit of a surprise on the small pond. Five of them were drakes, with a couple engaging in display while vocalising – the first time I've heard this odd, guttural call. Stonechat, Bullfinch and Linnet were also noted.

Rodborough and Milford Commons were quiet, though Witley Common was a little better despite the woeful lack of habitat management at this site over the last few years. The species of the morning occurred here as well: a pair of Crossbills heading east. These chaps are super thin on the ground this winter after bumper numbers last season, and this was my first sighting locally since November (and only my fourth since July). Three Lesser Redpolls also flew over.

Monday 31st

No birding today.

Sunday, 16 January 2022

2022 begins

A new year is upon us. The outlook for 2022 looks significantly brighter compared with this time last year, when we were locked down. South-west Surrey will again be my birding platform in the coming 12 months and, while I'll casually keep a local year list, I have a few other target-based plans as well. I've also moved house (more here) which has added a fun dimension to things.

Goosander were a theme locally in the first few days of 2022.

Saturday 1st

2022 began with both the obligatory hangover and an early start at the Lammas Lands, where a male Tawny Owl was hooting to the south. Here I met Dave ahead of a morning of local birding and it got off to flier, too, with four Goosander – a drake and three redheads – heading high up the River Wey. My first along the river, Goosander is rare anywhere within a 5 km radius of Godalming. 

Our Snipe stomp was pretty woeful – a measly three birds flushed. However, a first-winter Dartford Warbler was another pleasing record and presumably the bird I had on 20 November. Other bits from a decent, hour-long walk included a Little Egret in Hell Ditch, three Stonechats, two Kestrels and four Reed Buntings.

Dartford Warbler, Snipe and Stonechat.

We then headed to Enton Lakes, where four drake Pochard – another Godalming area goodie – were present. Really unseasonal conditions meant plenty of birds were in song, but we didn't note much else here, save six Great Crested Grebes.


We then headed a bit further afield, to Cutt Mill. Here, a redhead Goosander, seven Shoveler and 13 Mandarin were on the house pond, but better was to come along the track back up to the road: a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. A real bonus bird for New Year's Day, it stayed put for a while and allowed a small crowd of Goosander year list tickers to connect. Lovely stuff!

The morning ended with a nice bonus south-west Surrey year bird: Wigeon. Some 14 of them were on what was left of the Wrecclesham water meadow floods.

Sunday 2nd

Another unseasonably mild morning and another snipe stomp, this time at Shalford Water Meadows. Unlike the Lammas Lands there were decent numbers here: a very conservative minimum of 30 Common Snipe, plus two Jack Snipe which were flushed in close succession from virtually under my feet. A nice one to get – I'll return with the thermal imager. A surprise Woodcock completed the set nicely.

Other bits from a two-hour session included a drake Shoveler on Broadford Marsh, a pair of Stonechats at Bog Meadow, some Kestrel interaction on top of a nest box and six Cormorants.


I checked Snowdenham Mill Pond afterwards. To my delight, a group of six Goosander were present – a site first for me after years of expecting one here. The birds – two drakes and four redheads (two adult females and two first-winters) – showed fairly well, far more bothered with looking for food (including some 'scuba diving') than my presence.

Thorncombe Street Goosander ... at last!

Incredibly enough this was a Thorncombe Street tick for me – and the first lifer for my old patch since the Red-throated Pipit in 2019! There have only been two previous TS area records and, while I don't visit the area too much anymore, I have kept tabs on this little waterbody, which is one of my favourite places. Amazingly it's the 12th duck species I've seen here. Also present were two Gadwall and three each of Teal and Mandarin, which concluded a pleasant few hours in the field.


Monday 3rd

It felt like early March up on The Hurtwood this morning, with plenty of birds in song and a Sparrowhawk pair engaged in full tumbling display. The highlight of the session was a group of at least 30 Bramblings on Breakneck Hill, feeding on fallen beechmast with 100 or more Chaffinches. Thirty may have been a serious undercount, too, as the birds were mobile and hard to follow, giving only the odd flash of a white rump or wheezy call.


I speculated on 8 November on this blog that a Brambling flock may take up residence this winter, given the amount of beech in the area and following the bumper autumn for the species, so it was nice to see it had happened. Other bits included a Dartford Warbler calling in the usual area – marking the third year in a row this species has been logged here – a 10 or more Lesser Redpolls, three Bullfinches and a Raven.

Given the conditions I thought I'd try my luck at Unstead SF for some winter warblers. Loads of insects were on the wing near the works and lagoons and it was no surprise that a minimum of four Chiffchaffs were counted, including two in song. A very elusive Cetti's Warbler was skulking around between the two lagoons, two Reed Buntings were about and a male Stonechat was in Lagoon Field.

Blurry Cetti's Warbler.

I popped out again at dusk, and had to wait half an hour after sunset before being graced by the presence of a local Barn Owl – always a magical species to encounter and an enigmatic, elusive bird locally. A Woodcock dropped into a nearby field to feed shortly afterwards as well.

Tuesday 4th

I was at Frensham Little Pond at first light, with one species on my mind: Bittern. After failing to see this species during my south-west Surrey big year in 2020, as well as last year (which was also the first time since 2002 none were reported at Frensham), I'm keen to connect this year. So, it was most welcome when Shaun P (Mr Frensham) messaged me yesterday saying he had one in flight. Sadly, today, I had no joy whatsoever, and had to settle for five Teal, six Pochard and two each of Water Rail and Kingfisher as consolation.

Wednesday 5th

I was back at Frensham Little Pond, where it was significantly colder pre-dawn with frost on the ground. Crucially I was armed with the thermal imager today. While picking up reedbed Bittern worked for me at the London Wetland Centre on 12 December, it was more of a struggle here with distance meaning it simply couldn't reach heat signals emitting from deep in the reeds. 

However, I picked up a faint signal in the south-west reedbed and, upon switching to the bins, the outline of an essentially motionless Bittern could be made out, though it soon melted away. Pretty lucky to be honest, and a touch underwhelming, but pleasing nonetheless. I'll definitely be back – I'm keen to get good views this year, having not done so since 2016.

An impressive minimum of six Water Rails were vocalising pre-dawn and four drake Pochard were on the water, while a Raven flew over Tillhill Nurseries. A windswept Frensham Common was quiet. At the Great Pond, three Shoveler and a single female Pochard were noted, while two Firecrests were foraging successfully despite the cold in holly near the outlet stream.


Thursday 6th

No observations of note.

Friday 7th

I heard a Greenfinch singing from the kitchen window late morning and was struck by how less I hear this bird these days – it's declined so much since I was young. A look through my notes revealed I had only one double-figure count in 2021, and that included a family party ...

Saturday 8th

No birding today.

Sunday 9th

It was a cold, frosty and bright at Shackleford first thing, where 46 species were logged in an hour and a quarter. As they have been all winter, passerine numbers were relatively low, though they did include 60 Fieldfares, 25 Skylarks, four Stonechats and singles of Bullfinch and Reed Bunting. Lapwing, Kestrel and Ring-necked Parakeet were also of note, along with the wintering Little Grebe on Lydling Farm pond (where the Coot pair are already constructing a nest) and two Teal

Kestrel, Lapwing and Pied Wagtail.

A quick look at Loseley fields on the way home produced more than 120 geese, including 33 Greylags and eight Egyptian. Later on, a Red-legged Partridge ran over the road near Eashing.

Monday 10th

No observations of note.

Tuesday 11th

No birding today.

Wednesday 12th

An atmospheric mist was in the air this morning as I walked the Wey from Eashing to Godalming, logging 35 species. The best was a surprise Woodcock, flushed inadvertently from a ditch. I've now seen three locally this year – not bad given how elusive they are in the winter. Singles of Mandarin and Reed Bunting were also noted, 35 Siskins were near Westbrook and two Bullfinches included a singing male.

Thursday 13th

No birding today.

Friday 14th

A heavy frost coated the ground this morning and Snowdenham Mill Pond was partially frozen. A Kingfisher zipping over the south end was nice to see, while drake Gadwall and Mandarin were also noted, along with the Mute Swan pair.

I then checked out Eashing Fields, a newly created grassland area managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust on my (new) doorstep. What an introduction to this site, too – one of the first birds I picked up was a calling Dartford Warbler! It's always nice to bump into extralimital Dartfords and this one – an adult male – appeared quite happy in his little patch of gorse, though I've no doubt he was probably seething at the cold weather which likely moved him off a nearby heath. What a bird to have so close to home – and so soon after moving.

My second extralimital Dartford Warbler of 2022.

Two Stonechats were also unexpected, along with a singing Skylark. Reed Bunting and a few winter thrushes rounded off an excellent debut session here that smacked of future promise.

Saturday 15th

This morning Blue Tit became the first species to visit our new garden feeders, soon joined by Great Tit and Blackbird. Later on, two Red-legged Partridges were noted near Eashing Farm.

Sunday 16th

A belated first visit of the year to Thursley began with a male Tawny Owl hooting in the pre-dawn gloom. The common was shrouded in heavy mist throughout my session, with visibility down to several metres – atmospheric, but not great for birding. Highlights were thus limited, though did include singles of Water Rail and Woodlark, two Skylarks (unseasonal), five Lesser Redpolls and a flock of 40 or more Reed Buntings.

I then walked Royal Common, where the best bits included a flyover Raven and a male Grey Wagtail at the pond. 

Later in the day I explored Peper Harow, another site within 1 km of my new home. It's not a birdy site, with lots of tidy parkland. Four Ring-necked Parakeets were a bit of a surprise, though the habitat is perfect and there have been a handful of reports from here in the past year. One pair were excavating a nest hole by the cricket pitch. Surely full local colonisation is imminent … other bits included two Egyptian Geese and pleasing numbers of Greenfinches.

Ring-necked Parakeet.

Saturday, 15 January 2022


After five years of living in Farncombe, my girlfriend and I have moved. Not far, but far enough for my immediate birding area to shift – something notable when you bird locally as much as I do. We've moved to Eashing – a small hamlet east of Godalming, situated at the base of a valley on the banks of the River Wey.

Eashing Bridge (via Wikimedia).

So, future 'from home' observations will now refer to here, with a goodbye to Farncombe and my flat window list (ending on a solid 88!). For the first time in years we now have a garden, which presents previously absent birding scope. I've long been envious of friends who can feed and provide nests for birds on their little patch of land, so it'll be great to finally be able to do this myself. And, of course, a garden list goes without saying. I'm looking forward to getting back into noc-mig too, which was never properly feasible at Farncombe.

Perhaps most exciting is the immediate area, which I have started exploring this past week. The Wey can be seen from our bedroom window and from here it flows up to Godalming. This steep valley runs through a broad floodplain and much of it is wooded, with extensive (and impressive) alder carr. There are also areas of tall fen, grassland and standing water. Promising indeed. I've only walked this area a handful of times in my life, so I'm looking forward to giving it greater attention. The other week I was most surprised to learn it's a SSSI – I had no idea previously. 

There are some areas of open countryside in the immediate area too, including a new site right on my doorstep called Eashing Fields – a SANGS site created in 2020 and managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust. This and a large stretch of the river are all within a few hundred metres of my front door and I'm excited at the prospect of having such easy access to the countryside from home – it's an added bonus that it's all unexplored for me. A 1 km radius year list has already commenced!

Further afield, I'm within walking distance of some of my favourite sites and heaps of countryside I've never birded before – hopefully there will be some avian surprises to come.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

South-west Surrey year list: 2021

I finished on 153 for my south-west Surrey year list – not bad at all. However, given two species were only accrued thanks to being found in 2020 and lingering, it shows that anything over 150 in the region will always be a great effort …


1.     Red-legged Partridge

Uncommon resident. Seen less than in 2020. Recorded at 10 sites with a clear concentration around farmland in the Low Weald where my highest counts (70 being the maximum) were achieved. I understand less were released during 2020 due to the pandemic restricting shooting activities.

2.      Grey Partridge

The covey unexpectedly discovered at Shackleford in November 2020 persisted for a bit, but when the main alfalfa field was cut they vanished and weren't seen after 7 February. So, it was a surprise when a pair were seen on 21 April and 2 May. This hinted at breeding but sadly was the last encounter. I'm unaware of any other SWS records in 2020 and I wonder when I'll see the species again locally …

3.      Pheasant

Common resident; abundant in some areas of shooting land (i.e. 80 at Thorncombe Street on 14 August).

4.      Greylag Goose

Fairly common resident and increasing. Highest count: 97 at Thursley Common on 20 September.

5.      White-fronted Goose

South-west Surrey's 16th and 17th records was a fine end to 2020. One of the three birds from the Wey lingered into 2021; I connected with it at roosts at Broadwater Lake on 2 January and Shalford Water Meadows on 7 January. I thought it may be a long time before I saw this species again locally, so it was very much a surprise when the region's 18th record occurred at Loseley (and then the Wey water meadows) late in the year on 29 December.

6.      Brent Goose

A great year with two records (none in 2020): one at Tuesley Farm on 26 April and one at Frensham Great Pond (found by Shaun) on 17 October.

7.      Canada Goose

Very common resident. Highest count: 525 at Pudmore on 24 August.

8.      Mute Swan

Fairly common though relatively localised resident. No double-figure counts.

9.      Egyptian Goose

Relatively common and increasing resident. Highest count: 44 at Tuesley Farm on 26 August.

10.  Shelduck

Just one record of this local scarcity: four over Thursley Common on 1 July. I'm unaware of any others in SWS in 2021.

11.  Mandarin Duck

Relatively common, though shy, resident in suitable habitat. Highest count: 45 at Cutt Mill on 10 December.

12.  Shoveler

An uncommon passage migrant and localised winter visitor, with only 30 records across nine sites. It can in fact prove quite hard to pin down in the area on a winter's day. Highest count: 32 at Frensham Great Pond on 29 November (my biggest-ever local count).

13.  Gadwall

Fairly uncommon and somewhat localised; essentially resident at Snowdenham Mill Pond (where it was recorded in every month bar September) but seen at only six other sites. Highest count: 14 at Snowdenham Mill Pond on 16 October.

14.  Wigeon

Rare. During floods birds appear on Wrecclesham Water Meadows in the far north-west of the recording area, though I had none here in 2021. Five records elsewhere were an improvement on two in 2020: Enton Lakes (pair on 1 January), Frensham Great Pond (drake on 10 February; four on 23 December), Broadwater Lake (female on 23 November) and the Wey at Peasmarsh (five on 8 December).

15.  Mallard

Very common resident. Highest count: 170 at Thundry Meadows on 30 August.

16.  Teal

Relatively common winter visitor in favoured locales but never numerous and I saw less this year, with a low high count of 15 at Shackleford on 11 February. At least one pair bred again at Thursley.

17.  Red-crested Pochard

Only two records: a fine drake at Frensham Great Pond on 2 January (present there since 31 December) and a (the) female at Snowdenham Mill Pond on 11 January. After several years of at least one female frequenting the latter site it seems RCP will become a very tricky bird locally, with only hybrids recorded there since that January sighting.

18.  Pochard

A rare winter visitor away from Frensham Ponds (where my highest count was 65 on 25 January). The only other sites I recorded them were Enton Lakes (where there's a small winter flock) and Broadwater Lake (five on 1 January found by Sam; three on 6 February).

19.  Tufted Duck

Relatively common resident, seemingly declining as a wintering species. Highest count: 110 at Frensham Great Pond on 25 January.

20.  Goldeneye

Another decent one to get after a blank 2020: a moulting drake on Frensham Great Pond on the rather late date of 23 April. Several records at various sites later in the year involved an escaped brood of six that were hatched by a captive pair on the pond at Secrett’s Garden Centre! Rather annoyingly, these birds will blur the picture of any future Goldeneye records in the area – it'll be impossible to know if they're wild (to boot, Goldeneye is now very rare in SWS).

21.  Goosander

Fairly low-level and localised winter visitor. I only recorded birds at Cutt Mill and Frensham, with nine at the former site on 19 January a low highest count. As you've probably realised after reading this far, SWS is not a wildfowl hot-spot!

22.  Nightjar

A relatively common summer visitor to the sandy heaths almost exclusively west of the A3. I failed to follow through with my plan to search for them along the Greensand Ridge. Highest count: seven at Thursley Common on 10 June.

23.  Swift

A fairly common summer visitor. The Farncombe colony continues to hold strong. A bird at Painshill Farm on 4 September became my latest-ever Surrey record. Highest count: 90 at Frensham Great Pond on 28 April.

24.  Cuckoo

A fairly common and widespread summer visitor; recorded at 13 sites (cf. 20 in 2020). My earliest-ever British bird at Thursley on 4 April was tempered by the fact my last of the year was seen on the early date of 23 June at the same site.

25.  Feral Pigeon

Very common resident.

26.  Stock Dove

Common resident. Highest count: 170 at Shackleford on 17 October.

27.  Woodpigeon

Very common resident.

28.  Turtle Dove

The tiny population just about returned for another summer, though breeding wasn't confirmed and indeed only one purring male was located (and only recorded on two dates). A bird through Thursley Common on 1 June would have been a migrant – and thus a very notable record these days.

29.  Collared Dove

Common resident.

30.  Water Rail

A somewhat uncommon and localised winter visitor, and a rare breeding species, though massively under recorded. I noted Water Rail at nine sites (cf. five in 2020). Recorded at Thursley in every month par September – this species undoubtedly breeds here.

31.  Moorhen

Very common resident. Highest count: 13 at Broadwater Lake on 23 November.

32.  Coot

Common resident. Highest count: 92 at Frensham Great Pond on 6 November.

33.  Little Grebe

Common resident. Highest count: 22 at Tuesley Farm on 17 October.

34.  Great Crested Grebe

Relatively common resident though localised (only recorded at seven sites, with just one of them a locale where GCG doesn't breed).  Highest count: 38 at Frensham Great Pond on 14 September.

35.  Oystercatcher

Having missed two different July birds at Frensham Great Pond (both found by Shaun), I was pleased to score one there on 7 August – a bird wheeling around the water during heavy rain.

36.  Grey Plover

One of the birds of the year was a brief female at Tuesley Farm during torrential rain and strong south-easterlies on 8 May. My first in SWS and the first for the area since one at Thursley on 29 April 2017.

37.  Golden Plover

Only two records this year: 20 over Farncombe on 16 February (following the mini-'Beast from the East') and one over Shackleford on 15 September. Always a slippery customer locally.

38.  Lapwing

A swiftly declining winter visitor and passage migrant, and tenuous / occasional breeder. Only recorded at eight sites; breeding was attempted at Pudmore and the Wey at Waverley Abbey but neither pair were thought to have raised young. Some high counts during the freezing weather in early February included 188 over Thursley on 9th and 202 at Loseley on 13th.

39.  Ringed Plover

Like 2020, there were Tuesley records in both spring and autumn: a cracking pair of tundrae birds on 3 May and two on 1 September.

40.  Little Ringed Plover

Surprisingly difficult this year with only two records, both at Tuesley: a male on 28 April and a juvenile on 18 August. Stark contrast to 2020 when I had 12 bird days at three different sites. Dave had one at Pudmore in April but I'm not sure of any other local records.

41.  Curlew

The Thursley pair successfully hatched at least one chick out on Ockley, where they were seen with the youngster. Sadly, however, following heavy, unseasonal rain in mid-June the birds abandoned the site and it seems very likely the chick perished during this time. Hopefully this species – one of the most iconic in south-west Surrey – persists here. There was just one record away from Thursley: a bird over Tuesley on 6 August.

42.  Bar-tailed Godwit

Another highlight of the year was a dapper male at Tuesley Farm on 26 April – only the 12th SWS record and the first since 2006. SWS lifer.

43.  Sanderling

A flock of 34 over Tuesley during biblical rain on 7 August was a ridiculous spectacle and yet another wader highlight of 2021. A new county high count and only my second local record – crazy stuff!

44.  Dunlin

Only one record this year (cf. four in 2020): a summer-plumaged individual missing an eye (!) at Tuesley on 16 May. I'm unaware of any other records in the area in 2021.

45.  Little Stint

One record: a wonderfully showy juvenile at Tuesley on 14 September. My local bird of the year, this was only the eighth SWS record and the first since May 1994.

46.  Jack Snipe

At least two wintered on the Lammas Lands during the first half of the year, but there were none in the second winter period. Birds were recorded at Shalford Water Meadows and Thursley too (not by me). An under recorded, but nevertheless tricky local species.

47.  Woodcock

A fairly common summer visitor, mainly to the sandy western heaths west of the A3. One feeding by Park Lane, Bowlhead Green, in broad daylight on 2 May was an extraordinary observation. Probably uncommon to common in the winter (i.e. five at Shackleford after dark on 13 November) but doubtless under recorded.

48.  Snipe

A relatively common, though localised winter visitor to suitable habitat (seen at nine sites; highest count 20 at Lammas Lands on 12 January. At least two drumming males were at Thursley in the summer and a bird was seen carrying food over Pudmore on 1 July – a rare modern-day confirmed record of breeding locally.

49.  Common Sandpiper

An uncommon but regular passage migrant at Tuesley, where an exceptional spring (20 bird days and my earliest-ever Surrey record on 5 April) contrasted greatly and unusually with autumn (nine bird days). The only other record was of Frensham Great Pond on 8 May.

50.  Green Sandpiper

A rather unpredictable passage migrant and winter visitor, seen at three sites. One in a puddle at Shackleford on 22 August was good value.

51.  Greenshank

Single spring and autumn records from Tuesley: one over on 26 April and a brief summer-plumaged adult on 15 July. The only other record I know came via Dave at Pudmore in April.

52.  Redshank

Four records, all at Tuesley and in July. Pretty decent stuff given how tricky this species has become in Surrey.

53.  Black-headed Gull

Very common winter visitor. Several pairs bred at Tuesley too. Highest count: 240 at Loseley on 22 December.

54.  Mediterranean Gull

A good year for this increasing visitor to the area. An impressive flock of 16 dropped into Frensham Great Pond during rain on 12 March, a first-winter was at Tuesley on April and a juvenile was at the same site from 28 July to 3 August. There were several other local records this year as well.

55.  Common Gull

Common winter visitor. Not recorded between 1 April and 7 October. Highest count: 115 at Loseley on 22 December.

56.  Herring Gull

Fairly common winter and passage visitor; uncommon in summer. Highest count: 170 at Shackleford on 15 December.

57.  Lesser Black-backed Gull

Uncommon and low-level winter visitor; slightly more regular on passage. One of the surprises of the year was the successful breeding of this species in Binscombe – a pair raised two young.

58.  Great Black-backed Gull

Three records of this local scarcity: two over Shackleford during freezing weather on 25 January, an adult tracking the High Weald Ridge east on 20 February and a subadult over Shackleford on 22 October.

59.  Common Tern

A localised summer visitor (and breeder) at Enton and Frensham; no pairs bred at Tuesley this year.

60.  Arctic Tern

An adult and juvenile at Frensham Great Pond on 28 August (found by Shaun) were a welcome addition to the year list.

61.  Cormorant

A fairly common resident, though it doesn't breed.

62.  Grey Heron

Fairly common resident.

63.  Little Egret

A relatively common, although rather localised winter visitor and a rare and low-level breeding bird in the summer. Numbers seemingly down this year with 43 records (cf. 58 in 2020). Highest count: six at Unstead SF on 18 February.

64.  Osprey

Always one that requires luck to bump into locally, I was fortunate enough to score three records: one north-east over Thursley Common on 1 April, an adult south over Thursley Common on 10 August and one south-west over Bramley village on 13 September. Only two other records: autumn birds seen by Gerry and Jeremy.

65.  Honey Buzzard


66.  Marsh Harrier

Another rare passage migrant that's tricky to catch up with. My two records were: a female-type east over the High Weald Ridge at Hambledon on 20 February and a juvenile low south through Shackleford on 15 August. The latter bird was seen at Thursley afterwards and there were as many as three other records from there during the year (per Dave and Doug and Penny).

67.  Hen Harrier

Only one record this year: a ringtail high south-west over Tuesley on 14 November. At least three were recorded at Thursley but none lingered.

68.  Sparrowhawk

A fairly common resident.

69.  Goshawk

Rare resident.

70.  Red Kite

A fairly common resident.

71.  Buzzard

A common resident.

72.  Barn Owl

A rare, low-level and localised resident. I had very few records but am aware of several other sites that held birds throughout the year.

73.  Little Owl

Uncommon, localised and on the decline. I had records from five sites with breeding confirmed at one.

74.  Tawny Owl

Fairly common resident but vastly under recorded.

75.  Kingfisher

Relatively common resident along waterbodies. I had birds at 13 sites. A pair successfully nested along the Wey at Godalming.

76.  Great Spotted Woodpecker

A common resident.

77.  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

All things considered a good year for this elusive species, with birds recorded at eight sites and breeding confirmed at three of them (only two were successful).

78.  Green Woodpecker

A pretty common resident.

79.  Kestrel

A fairly common resident.

80.  Hobby

An uncommon summer visitor. Recorded at nine sites.

81.  Peregrine

A scarce resident, recorded at eight sites but with only 12 records. Only one record after 10 April! There was no confirmed breeding this year.

82.  Ring-necked Parakeet

Still a rare and very localised recent colonist. Present all year at Shackleford with breeding suspected in the wider area – this is the only regular site. I also had two records in Farncombe and am aware of a few sightings elsewhere, from as far south as Chiddingfold.

83.  Great Grey Shrike

I saw the erratic wintering individual on Thursley Common on three dates in January and February. There were none in the second winter period during what's been a wretched winter nationally for the species. Will doubtless become trickier in SWS as we experience warmer winters.

84.  Jay

Common resident. Bumper numbers were present from September on following an influx of continental birds.

85.  Magpie

Very common resident.

86.  Jackdaw

Very common resident. Highest count: 600 at Unstead Water Meadows on 10 January.

87.  Rook

Common resident.

88.  Carrion Crow

Very common resident. Highest count: 115 at Loxhill on 14 March.

89.  Raven

Uncommon but increasing. Seen at 15 sites (cf. 19 in 2020) with three known nests. Highest count: six at Shackleford on 27 August.

90.  Coal Tit

Common resident.

91.  Marsh Tit

Localised and generally uncommon, but rather common in some areas of Low Weald woodland. North of the High Weald Ridge, aside from around the Thorncombe Street valley, it has a disconnected distribution and thus probably shrinking population. Seen at 14 sites (cf. 20 in 2020). Highest count: seven at Sidney Wood on 24 June.

92.  Blue Tit

Very common resident. Highest count: 40 at Thursley Common on 24 August.

93.  Great Tit

Very common resident. Highest count: 18 at Sidney Wood on 24 June.

94.  Woodlark

A relatively common, though localised, resident, almost exclusive to the sandy heaths west of the A3, but present at some High Weald Ridge sites. An amazing single flock of 21 was at Shackleford on 7 January – one of only two records away from breeding areas.

95.  Skylark

A relatively common resident; declining. Recorded at 15 sites. Highest count: 100+ at Shackleford (the Skylark capital of SWS) on 25 January.

96.  Sedge Warbler

A low-level and localised summer visitor along the Wey between Farncombe and Shalford (perhaps as few as two pairs this year). A good autumn passage in 2020, though, including a remarkable five birds through Shackleford in August and September. Another was at Tuesley on 18 August.

97.  Reed Warbler

A relatively common or uncommon summer visitor and localised, though far more widespread than Sedge Warbler. Bred at six sites at least; seen on passage only at Painshill Farm (11 May) and Thursley (16 August).

98.  Grasshopper Warbler

A very rare breeding species with one pair raising young successfully, not far from where breeding took place in 2019 and 2020. Two passage records too, both at Shackleford (31 July and 29 August).

99.  Sand Martin

A relatively uncommon passage migrant. Again no breeding confirmed anywhere in SWS. Two over Tuesley on 6 March were my earliest-ever UK records. Highest count: 160 at Frensham Great Pond on 28 April.

100.                   House Martin

A fairly common summer visitor but declining; 2021 was particularly poor for this species. Seen on less than 70 days all year and no three-figure counts.

101.                   Swallow

A fairly common summer visitor. Highest count: 200 at Frensham Great Pond on 28 April.

102.                   Wood Warbler

One record: a territorial male at Puttenham Common (found by Sam) from 25 April to 9 May. A nice one to get after missing two in 2020, this is now a county rarity and is less than annual in SWS. One of the birds of the year – and really nice to watch singing away in the spring sunshine.

103.                   Willow Warbler

A relatively common summer visitor though declining and may be uncommon soon. Singing males heard at 11 sites.

104.                   Chiffchaff

A common summer visitor; a scarce and localised winter visitor.

105.                   Cetti's Warbler

A rare and localised recent colonist, known only from a couple of spots along the Wey between Godalming and Unstead (I had birds at three sites). At least one pair is thought to have attempted to nest – I personally never had more than one individual.

106.                   Long-tailed Tit

A very common resident. Highest count: 30 at Bagmoor Common on 28 October.

107.                   Blackcap

A common summer visitor; rare winter visitor.

108.                   Garden Warbler

A fairly common summer visitor. Singing males heard at 18 sites.

109.                   Lesser Whitethroat

After last year held two breeding locales and two passage records, 2021 was disappointing, even if this is a very tricky bird locally: my only record was a singing male at Barrihurst Farm, Dunsfold, on 27 May. I understand breeding occurred here – I'm unaware of any other records (!) in SWS in 2021.

110.                   Whitethroat

A common summer visitor.

111.                   Dartford Warbler

A locally common resident, almost exclusive to the sandy heaths near to or west of the A3 (i.e. 25 at Thursley on 11 April). Again present at The Hurtwood during the summer but breeding not confirmed. Apparently also a winter visitor to the Lammas Lands, with a couple of records in 2021.

112.                   Goldcrest

A very common resident.

113.                   Firecrest

A fairly common and increasing resident (singing males recorded at 33 sites); scarcer in the winter but doubtless under recorded.

114.                   Nuthatch

A common resident.

115.                   Treecreeper

A common resident.

116.                   Wren

A very common resident.

117.                   Starling

A common resident. Highest count: 520 at Shackleford on 22 August.

118.                   Mistle Thrush

A common resident. Highest count: 9 at Thursley Common on 7 October.

119.                   Song Thrush

A very common resident.

120.                   Redwing

A common winter visitor. An incredible 4,760 flew west over Shackleford on 14 October.

121.                   Fieldfare

A common winter visitor. Highest count: 150 at Shackleford on 11 January.

122.                   Ring Ouzel

Another below average year for the species with an awful autumn. My only two records: a male at Crooksbury Common (found by Jeremy) on 13 April and a male at Thursley Common on 15 October. Incredibly enough I'm not aware of any others in SWS in 2021. I haven't found a spring bird since 2015!

123.                   Blackbird

A very common resident.

124.                   Spotted Flycatcher

An uncommon summer visitor; scarce on passage. Doing OK in this part of the Surrey but still declining. I had records at 10 sites, and nine of them involved either singing or nesting birds.

125.                   Robin

A very common resident.

126.                   Nightingale

An uncommon and localised summer visitor. Of the four sites I recorded the species, all were in the Low Weald – the species' Surrey stronghold. This population is pretty healthy but the poor spring weather definitely impacted Nightingale this year, even though I found a few successful nests in the summer. Also bred at Milford Common – the only SWS locale away from the Low Weald.

127.                   Redstart

A relatively common though localised breeder; an uncommon passage migrant. Another bird that suffered from the poor summer weather. My only passage birds were at Painshill Farm (two).

128.                   Whinchat

An uncommon passage migrant, mainly in autumn (I only had two spring birds in 2021). Recorded at five sites, with Shackleford the hot-spot as usual.

129.                   Stonechat

A fairly common though relatively localised resident; a little less common but more widespread in winter. Highest count: 21 at Thursley Common on 10 August.

130.                   Wheatear

A relatively common passage migrant, though I only recorded birds at three sites. Highest count: seven at Shackleford on 9 April.

131.                   Dunnock

A very common resident.

132.                   House Sparrow

A common resident but becoming a touch localised. A low high count of 45 at Farncombe on 8 July.

133.                   Grey Wagtail

A fairly common resident at appropriate water bodies. 14 at Tuesley Farm on 14 September is one of my highest-ever local counts.

134.                   Yellow Wagtail

An uncommon passage migrant, mainly in autumn. I recorded birds at six sites and, again, Shackleford was the hot-spot and produced the highest count: 15 on 27 August. An incredibly late bird was at Tuesley on 25 October.

135.                   Pied Wagtail

A very common resident. Highest count: 200 at Thursley Common (out of Pudmore roost) on 15 October.

136.                   Meadow Pipit

A common winter visitor and passage migrant; absent in the summer (between early May and late August) and now thought to be extirpated from the region (this was the second year in a row none bred at Hankley Common). A bird was at Thursley until 1 May but no singing or other breeding behaviour was noted. Highest count: 208 at Shackleford on 17 March.

137.                   Tree Pipit

A relatively common but localised breeder, almost exclusive to the sandy heaths near or west of the A3, but also present at The Hurtwood. Uncommon on passage (at three sites).

138.                   Water Pipit

Still a bit of a local enigma (this species may occur based on rainfall in the winter) but essentially a spring passage migrant, and almost exclusively at the Lammas Lands. I had one there on 6 March. A bird over Tuesley Farm on 18 April was a real surprise.

139.                   Rock Pipit

One of the highlights of the year was the occurrence of the first SWS Rock Pipits since 1994. Both were at Tuesley – while it was an exceptional autumn for the species in inland England, it may be more frequent that thought at this site. The records were: up to two from 10-19 October and one on 4 November.

140.                   Chaffinch

A common resident. Highest count: 90 at Shackleford on 7 January.

141.                   Brambling

Only two records in the first winter period, but then a bumper autumn, with birds recorded at seven sites. Highest count: 11 at The Hurtwood on 8 November.

142.                   Hawfinch

A low-level and elusive resident, and a scarce autumn passage migrant. Breeding was confirmed at one Low Weald site with at least one chick fledging. Only one record away from here and, for the first time since 2016, no vis-mig records for me (probably not helped by being away for much of the peak season).

143.                   Bullfinch

A fairly common resident.

144.                   Greenfinch

A fairly common resident but definitely declining. Only one double-figure count this year (!) – 12 at Painshill Farm on 14 August.

145.                   Linnet

A fairly common resident; more in the winter. Highest count: 120 at Loxhill on 14 November.

146.                   Lesser Redpoll

A relatively common or uncommon winter visitor; very rare in summer. After the bumper autumn 2020 plenty were around in the first-winter period, with 90 or more counted on Thursley several times. Last noted there on 1 May. Scarcer in the second winter period.

147.                   Siskin

A relatively common winter visitor; a scarce (but perhaps unappreciated) breeding resident (I recorded this species between June and August at seven sites). Highest count: 250 at Unstead Water Meadows on 31 January.

148.                   Goldfinch

A very common resident. Highest count: 14 at Shackleford on 15 October.

149.                   Crossbill

Like Lesser Redpoll, an excellent first winter period, with 46 records from 11 sites. Confirmed breeding occurred at Crooksbury and Thursley Commons; suspected at The Hurtwood. Became very rare after July – only four records from then until the end of the year. Highest count: 45 at Crooksbury Common on 18 March.

150.                   Yellowhammer

An uncommon and fairly localised resident, with a clear stronghold in the Low Weald (where in some areas it’s relatively common). Harder to connect with in the winter. Recorded at 11 sites, with only one double-figure count (10 at Markwick Farm on 16 January).

151.                   Reed Bunting

Relatively common resident in wet areas; found more readily on farmland and commons in winter. Highest count: 45 at Thursley Common on 4 February.

152.                   Little Bunting

The two 2020 birds (the fourth and fifth SWS records) lingered at Thursley until late April, with my last encounter (of both) on 22nd. Amazing to hear these birds singing on a Surrey heath!

153.                   Rustic Bunting

Dave's monster find from November 2020 at Thursley lingered until 29 March. I last saw it on 19th.

Miss list

A further 10 species were recorded in south-west Surrey in 2021, bringing the regional total to 163 (cf. 167 in 2020). A few of these were rather grim misses for me! The full list follows:

1.      Whimbrel

Jeremy had two over Crooksbury in April and Neil had one over the Lammas Lands in August – not aware of any others. My first blank year locally since 2016.

2.      Great Egret

There were two spring birds, with Dave having one over Enton in March and Jeremy having one over Shalford in April. Despite scoring three records in 2020 this is still a very rare local bird and isn't to be expected.

3.      Black Stork

Easily bird of the year locally, one lucky photographer (and a group of volunteers who thought it a Crane) at Thursley Common watched it drop from the skies and land on West Bog on 27 May. It hung around for 15 or so minutes then flew off west. What a sight that would have been – very gripping stuff and a spectacle I doubt I'll ever witness locally. The news came out a day late (!) but it wouldn't have been twitchable either way. Jeremy then had this bird over Frensham, though was without bins and thus had to settle for 'stork species'! The first SWS record.

4.      Little Gull

Shaun had a juvenile at Frensham Great Pond on 31 August. I didn't go for it.

5.      Black Tern

This species is easily my Surrey kryptonite and the easiest species not on my county or SWS list. I missed an early June adult that Jonathan H had one evening – unfortunately I was too many pints down at the pub when he text! The second successive year I've missed out at Frensham …

6.      Merlin

A female-type was on and off present at Thursley during the first winter period with a few reliable reports in February and March. Gerry had a passage bird at Witley Farm too in March. Simply a bird that requires fortune to bump into locally.

7.      Yellow-browed Warbler

Rob J found one at Thursley Common on 10 October. There are still very few records locally but surely I'll bump into one eventually – a SWS tick I'd much rather find than twitch, though I doubtless would have chased this one had I not been en route to Dorset for a family holiday!

8.      Pied Flycatcher

After bumper autumns in 2019 and 2020 there was only one record in 2021, and it came in April at Hankley Common: a smart male found by Eric. He lost it not long after discovery so I didn't go for it. My first blank year locally since 2017.

9.      Black Redstart

A frustrating one, having dipped the two records (at Shackleford in March, found by Peter, and at Thursley Common in July found by Dave). Both rather frustrating due to being on favoured patches and vanishing shortly before I arrived … my first blank year locally since 2017.

10.   Two-barred Crossbill*

This bird is pending acceptance by the BBRC. If accepted, I'll kick myself. Jeremy trapped a first-winter male 'wing-barred crossbill' on 17 March. He called and said he'd hold it until I arrived, even though he wasn't convinced it wasn't a Common Crossbill. In short, I decided not to go due to his doubt – and photos later suggested it was a TBX! I subsequently spent many hours over a few days trying to relocate it, but failed … potentially a fifth for SWS, but only the second since 1966.


Notable absentees

Birds that occurred in 2020 but not in 2021.

1.      Barnacle Goose

Unaware of any records of this fabulous feral species!

2.      Pintail

Amazingly enough there were no records in 2021: a sign of the times.

3.      Scaup

Occurred in 2020 at Frensham but no surprise – that was the first in SWS for 14 years and it could easily be as long until the next.

4.      Bittern

I tried a few times at Frensham Little Pond but not enough. Shaun had no records and thus it’s the first blank year at the site (and subsequently in SWS) since 2002. I'm determined to connect this year.

5.      Yellow-legged Gull

After three records in 2020 it was disappointing – but perhaps not surprising – to score none in 2021.

6.      Short-eared Owl

Still one I need for SWS, there were none reported in 2021 (after a couple of flyovers at Thursley in 2020).

7.      Hoopoe

Occurred in 2020 (at The Sands, found by Jeremy) but not surprisingly none in 2021, given its rarity level.


Other bits

It's worth just mentioning that Wood Sandpiper is overdue (none at Pudmore, the only likely SWS site, since 2019), along with Black-tailed Godwit (none since 2017 to my knowledge!). A few other species also seem a little overdue, such as Common Scoter or a rarer grebe at Frensham, Caspian Gull etc.