Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

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Thursday, 31 March 2022

March madness

You're always in with a shout in south-west Surrey when easterlies dominate and the end to March has been a shining example of this. Despite sustained high pressure (and plenty of frosty, migrant-less mornings to boot) it's been a brilliant little period for me, including some really satisfying finds and sessions that I'm sure will stand out as year highlights come the end of 2022.

Spring drake Garganey: a dream patch find.

Monday 21st

A red-letter morning. I got to Tuesley first thing and, to my disbelief, three Garganey were sat on the water! The birds – a clear pair and another drake – were surprisingly settled and, after waiting for Dave and Eric to arrive, we were treated to crippling views of this most beautiful of ducks. Eventually however they powered north but, after a while, they seemed to whiffle down somewhere ...





Garganey action. What exquisite birds.

On a 'surely they wouldn't drop in there' hunch I checked out the tiny, reedy pumping station pool at the other end of the farm … and to my amazement they were there! I soaked up the encounter which even included multiple vocalisations from the single drake. Mega vibes all round and exactly why local birding is the best.



I've always wanted to find Garganey locally but it's a really tricky south-west Surrey bird. Indeed, this is only the eighth record since 1998 and fourth since 2010. Personally, it's my second in the area after Matt found a pair at Shalford Water Meadows in 2017. It's also the highest count of the species in south-west Surrey since 1988!

To boot, two adult Mediterranean Gulls and a Brambling flew over, with a Green Sandpiper briefly present as well. What a morning!

Med Gull.

Tuesday 22nd

Unsurprisingly after a clear night there was no sign of the Garganey at Tuesley, so I headed to Frensham Great Pond. The Cetti's Warbler was in good voice in the eastern reedbed, a single drake Pochard was noted and a Kingfisher flew over the west end.

Later on I walked along the river from home, finally scoring my first Blackcaps of the year. Four, in fact, all singing males and presumably part of a fresh arrival. It was lovely to hear their fluty tune once again after six months with no records anywhere.


Blackcap.

Wednesday 23rd

After the excitement of Saturday, it was back to normal at Thursley, with a quiet session highlighted by a pair of Teal on Pudmore – birds back for the breeding season, perhaps. A slight increase in Lesser Redpoll was also noted but Meadow Pipit numbers remained shockingly low, especially as we're now entering peak passage for them. The lingering high pressure presumably to blame …

Teal.

I walked home via Rodborough Common, where I was treated to a singing male Brambling – something I've heard only a couple of times before. What a winter it's been for this species, with this the 15th local site I've recorded them at since November. Two Firecrests were also in voice.

eBird map of local Brambling records since October.

Thursday 24th

A quick walk before work produced an unexpected male Reed Bunting singing at Eashing Fields. As mentioned on 12 March, this species is enjoying a bit of a population boom along the Wey so I suppose territory overspill is inevitable. Eight Red-legged Partridges were counted across here and Eashing Farm, where a couple of Ravens were present.

Reed Bunting.

Friday 25th

Another crisp and clear morning produced a bit of a surprise at Eashing Fields: a male White Wagtail in Top Field. The bird remained distant before, bizarrely, flying and settling in an oak tree for several minutes. It then took off high north, presumably to continue its long northbound journey … nice to see after a blank 2021 for this scarce local passage migrant. The Reed Bunting was still holding fort as well.



White Wagtail.

Later on I caught up with Sam and we walked Puttenham Common, scoring three Woodlarks, five Shoveler, four Teal, a Kestrel and a Firecrest. In the early evening a flyover Ring-necked Parakeet and singing Blackcap were noted from the Cyder House Inn garden.

Saturday 26th

I opted for a trip down memory lane first thing this morning, walking my old Thorncombe Street patch. I saw a few familiar faces and spots I haven't visited for a long time, but the avian action was rather limited. A Little Owl at Bonhurst Farm highlighted, with two Linnets on The Ridge and a Skylark singing over Broomy Down. The dark Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid was at Snowdenham Mill Pond.

I then did a big walk around Thursley, noting 51 species in the sunshine. I was very pleased to spot three Lapwings over Woodpigeon Wood, later relocating them on Pudmore. Hopefully these are birds back for another breeding attempt (after last year's failure). Pudmore also produced my first Curlew visuals of the year following heard-only records so far here and at Tuesley. 




Pudmore action.

Other bits included two Greenfinches over Pylon Pool (only my fifth record on the common proper!), a female Kestrel, a Blackcap on High Ground and a couple of singing Lesser Redpolls in a small flock at Spur Wood.

Sunday 27th

No birding.

Monday 28th

Nearly a day of no birding, but I decided to quickly do Eashing Fields after work. After scanning the fence line at Top Field a couple of times the sight that all patchwatchers annually wait for revealed itself: a cracking male Wheatear. My first of the year, it was a lively bird, flycatching along the margin and in the ploughed field. A dog walker carrying binoculars was very happy to be shown the bird, marking the first-ever Eashing Fields twitch in the process!



Wheatear.

Things then took a crazy turn when a pair of Shoveler – of all things – whizzed high west. What they were doing over here and at this time of day, who knows … interestingly Peter had a pair over Witley Common earlier (similarly incongruous) and perhaps these were the same birds. Whatever the case, not a species I expected to get on my 1 km year list so I was very pleased. A brilliant hour or so, all within a couple of hundred metres of home.

Tuesday 29th

The first overcast morning in ages, coupled with murky north-easterlies, always threatened to produce and so it proved at Shackleford. It was initially quiet, but a crazy 10-minute spell began when I reached the cow shed. First, a flashing red rump disappeared behind the wall – surely a Black Redstart, I thought, but then a male Wheatear appeared round the other side.

I was stumped but not for long, as a female-type Black Redstart then flicked round the hay barn. Excellent! This was my nemesis species last year (I dipped two and saw none locally) and I've long wanted it to get on my Shackleford list as well. The bird was highly active and began working up the fence line alongside the alfalfa. Amazingly, it was then joined by another, albeit very briefly (if I hadn't managed a woeful shot of them both I may have even doubted it, for it was that fleeting).





Black Redstarts (two in the final photo, honestly ... ).

As I followed the remaining Black Red up the path I was most surprised to then hear a Willow Warbler singing above me. The bird, incongruously sat in an isolated tree in the middle of a load of arable fields, confirmed that some sort of fall had occurred overnight and I'd been very lucky to jam into it.

Willow Warbler.

It was all over within minutes. An amazing little period, showing how ephemeral spring migration encounters can be. Peter managed to get there just in time to connect with the lingering Black Red, though it soon disappeared as well …

Other bits included an impressive flock of some 70 Linnets (the biggest gathering here for some time), five Red-legged Partridges and a female Kestrel.

Wednesday 30th

A Thursley wander was looking like a quiet one, with four Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a small Brambling flock and a Greenfinch highlighting before that special spring moment took place over Pudmore: the first hirundine of the year. In this case it was two, as a Swallow and a Sand Martin zipped through north, on a mission. My latest ever spring Sand Martin, but it's always nice to get a March Swallow …

Thursday 31st

Another right place, right time morning, with two Great Egrets flying low north into the chilly headwind over Milford. The birds, seemingly a pair with one bird in breeding plumage, were struggling in the wind and sailed right over my head and away to the north-east – amazing stuff.



Great Egrets, with the left bird displaying a darker, breeding season bill.

What a brilliant last 10 days of March. Great Egret, while routinely seen in Surrey these days, is still decent currency locally with this something like the 11th south-west Surrey record (and only my third).

Sunday, 20 March 2022

Bright colours

Blue skies and bright colours have been the theme during the last 10 days, as a prolonged spell of high pressure has rustled up a lively start to spring in south-west Surrey. It's been a time to enjoy the last dregs of winter and the calm before the storm, with the busy peak spring passage season on the verge of commencing.

Yellowhammer on one of the many sunny days of late.

Friday 11th

No birding today.

Saturday 12th

I managed a decent 41 species at the Lammas Lands early on, including a superb count of 17 Reed Buntings across both meadows. This species is thriving at this site and at least six different males were holding territory. Other bits included a Little Egret, three each of Stonechat and Snipe, a singing Chiffchaff and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Unstead Water Meadows was quiet, while the floods near Peasmarsh held a solitary Lapwing on the flash opposite the sewage farm. Miserably enough this was only my third local record of the year. Three Teal were also present.


Woodpigeon and Black-headed Gulls.

I then spent a couple of hours at Shackleford, which was rather quiet in the increasingly breezy southerly. A light easterly movement of Starlings was taking place, with a couple of hundred birds logged. Four Red-legged Partridges included two singing males, a Raven flew east carrying food, lots of Skylarks were in song and the female Coot was sitting on the nest at the farm pond.

From Shackleford I wandered over to Puttenham Common, by which time the sun was out. The best bits were a singing Marsh Tit, 10 Shoveler on the Cutt Mill house pond, a male Brambling, a flyover Raven, three singing Firecrests, a Kingfisher and a Lesser Redpoll.

Sunday 13th

No birding today.

Monday 14th

It was bright and a little chilly this morning as I wandered along the Wey from Eashing. Some 49 species was a personal best for me here (albeit from a thus far small sample set) and there was a notable change in birds since last week – no fewer than eight Chiffchaffs were in song, while two Firecrests and a Reed Bunting were also singing. Other bits included decent counts of 32 Mandarin and 120 Siskins, two pairs of Teal (maybe the same as last week?) and a Marsh Tit.

Male Siskin.

Later on three Stonechats, five Reed Buntings and a Linnet were noted during a productive meeting with Waverley Borough Council at the Lammas Lands.

Female Stonechat.

Tuesday 15th

For something a bit different I tried Witley and Milford Commons this bright and slightly wintry morning, noting 38 species in the process. Witley Common held a gorgeous male Yellowhammer that was in near-constant song. I'm pretty sure this is the only location within 5 km of my house that supports breeding 'yammers', which is a little sad. They are truly one of my favourite species …



Other bits here included singles of Woodlark, Stonechat and Reed Bunting, as well as two Bullfinches and seven Chiffchaffs. On the ARC reserve, Brambling, three Lesser Redpolls and a singing Firecrest were detected.

Matt visited in the afternoon and I showed him some of my 1 km sites. A Brambling over Eashing Fields was a first for me there, with the Stonechat pair and 20 or so Linnets also about. Along the river two pairs of Marsh Tits along the lower stretch was a real result – seemingly at least three pairs are along the Wey here. A flyover Raven was very notable too. 

After dark, a big surprise came at Peperharow – a three-owl checklist, as vocalising Barn, Little and Tawny Owls were all noted.

Wednesday 16th

No birding today

Thursday 17th

My first Shackleford Chiffchaff of the year was moving through the hedgerows this morning, which was sunny and clear – a forecast seemingly in position for a few days. A female Sparrowhawk, two Little Grebes, four Stonechats and 45 or more Linnets were also seen.

Buzzard.

Friday 18th

Two Kingfishers, a flock of 90 Siskins and a Firecrest highlighted during a pre-work walk along the Wey at Eashing.

Saturday 19th

An excellent early spring morning of local birding. It started well at Frensham Great Pond, with an Oystercatcher roosting on the sailing club jetty. Found by Shaun, the bird was settled and allowed for superb views in the early morning sunshine. Always tricky locally, one to three records a year is about usual in south-west Surrey and this bird could easily be the only one I see in 2022 …



Oystercatcher.

I then headed to Thursley, which was looking its absolute best under the blue skies. The male Curlew singing on Elstead Common was a good start (Doug and Penny had a pair last week) but things ramped up several gears when I headed up Shrike Hill for a sky watch. The familiar call of a Mediterranean Gull stopped me in my tracks – I heard it several times but just couldn't locate the bird. Eventually however I got onto the source – a flock of eight adults cruising high east-north-east over Parish Field. Mega!


Mediterranean Gulls.

A rather recent phenomenon in the South-East has been the overland migration of Med Gulls in March and April. This is probably due to a burgeoning winter population in the south and west which is swelled by birds from the continent. Presumably, come spring, many migrate back east over southern Britain and their broody feelings mean they're especially vocal, rendering them detectable as they pass over at height. This flock accounted for only the second-ever Thursley record (Dave had a flock of 20 in April 2020).

Things took an even crazier twist about half an hour later when I picked up an Osprey heading low south over Thursley Road. Occasionally lost below the treeline, the bird was being mobbed by corvids having presumably roosted nearby (as this species often does here). It seemed crazy early to me but, after looking into it, there's been quite the early arrival during the last week (some birds are even back on nests in Scotland!). This bird goes down of one of the earliest Surrey records and the second-earliest for Thursley (site legend Mick P had one on 17 March 2000). A bonkers 30 minutes on Shrike Hill …

Several other decent bits made the checklist, including four Crossbills (only my second locally since November and first here since 15 October), a male Peregrine over South Bog, a Brambling, eight Snipe flushed by a low-flying helicopter on Ockley, two Sparrowhawks and a Meadow Pipit in song near Pylon Pool. An extraordinary session – the type that Thursley can chuck the persistent visitor once in a blue moon.

Sparrowhawk.

Sunday 20th

It was another bright morning as I set out across the Lammas Lands. A rather quiet session peaked late on when I heard a single call from a Cetti's Warbler. Eventually the bird showed but it was typically elusive. Regardless, it was nice to log this species here again after a nine-month absence following the first-ever Lammas Lands records last year (when breeding was assumed). Other bits included a Little Egret, two Stonechat pairs and six Snipe.

Cetti's Warbler.

Later on I wandered down the river from home and was treated to a new-in Reed Bunting holding territory not far from Eashing Bridge. A sparring Red Kite pair provided entertainment, a Raven soared overhead and two Egyptian Geese marked a new species for me here.



Red Kites, Reed Bunting and Egyptian Goose.