Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

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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.

Goosander.

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.

Wigeon.

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.

Redwing.

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.

Kestrel.

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!

Peregrine.

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.

Pochard.

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.

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.

Gadwall.

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.

Brambling.

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.

Firecrest.

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

Moving

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.