Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Sunday, 29 May 2022

Finland and Norway

I'm not long back from a wonderful trip to Finland and Norway. It was perhaps my most enjoyable foreign venture yet – absolutely peak European birding with a long list of iconic species (208 in total) and memorable encounters, amid breathtaking landscapes. I won't have time for a proper trip report but my eBird report can be read here (ebird.org/tripreport/58472). I'll also be writing a feature in the next edition of Birdwatch. Back to south-west Surrey birding now ...

Siberian Jay, Konttainen Hill, Finland, 20 May 2022.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

May making up

In the end May made up for April this spring, with all my good birds this passage season coming this month (save a couple in March). It's been a weird spring with a strong Jekyll and Hyde theme; long periods of doldrums but short bursts of real quality. In all, combined with the fair weather, it's been enjoyable. And maybe I'm calling it too early as well, for June can easily turn up something special …

A showy, summer-plumage Turnstone: a strong contender for local bird of the year.

Tuesday 10th

There was a brisk south-westerly with cloud (and even the odd bit of drizzle) at Tuesley this morning, which was enough to force two Dunlin down low enough to be seen as they zipped through north – a fleeting encounter indeed. I expect to encounter Dunlin annually in south-west Surrey but they can prove to be slippery customers sometimes (i.e. one record last year).


Two Swifts also moved north, a Common Sandpiper was foraging on the shore and a bright female Greenland Wheatear dropped in during the heaviest of the rain.


A message from Shaun had me racing down to Frensham after work: two Arctic Terns at the Great Pond. The birds were amid a passage flock of some 12 Common Terns in breezy, muggy conditions, and I spent an enjoyable half-hour watching them pick insects off the surface of the water. Always a quality species to see locally and side-by-side comparison with their Common congeners was an added bonus.

Arctic Terns.

The biggest numbers of hirundines (200 or more) and Swifts (at least 50) I've seen this spring were also zipping about, and the Cetti's Warbler was heard singing in the eastern reedbed.

Wednesday 11th

An afternoon of breezy westerlies and rain felt very good for waterbodies, but I couldn't get to Tuesley until after work, by which point the wind had abated and the sun was out. An initial scan seemed to confirm that nothing was doing – but then I picked up a stonking male Turnstone on the north shore!

Initial views of the Turnstone ...

The bird, in full breeding regalia, looked glorious in the early evening sunshine and I was treated to a magical couple of hours with the bird. It spent time feeding on the shore, favouring the outflow area, but occasionally flew around calling, often trying to land on buoys or rafts occupied by other birds. It looked most incongruous at times – but absolutely gorgeous, with the rusty orange plumage with shocks of white and black quite stunning.

Turnstone photodump.

Needless to say it was a south-west Surrey lifer. In fact, Turnstone is pretty mega, with the last south-west Surrey record in 2012 (four flyovers at Tuesley). You have to go back to 1999 for one prior to that and in total there have only been 11 records. Simply a monster bird in every way!

To cap things off a flock of five Dunlin circled and flew off south. You have to be lucky to cash in on inland wader passage as it can be so fleeting, especially around here – but when your luck is in it's often thrilling. 


Thursday 12th

It was bright and fresh a Thursley this morning. A two-and-a-half hour session seemed like it was going to be quiet until a whirlwind few minutes typical of this site out on Ockley Common. First, a Snipe began drumming overhead – wonderful stuff. Then, I heard the Meadow Pipit for the first time since 1st, surely confirming it’s not just a late winterer.

Drumming Snipe.

This was soon followed by an Osprey flying low north in the direction of Birchy Pond. Presumably it had roosted in one of the pines on Ockley and was disturbed; I didn’t see it fly off so I guess it re-landed somewhere out of view. My third local Osprey of the spring – a species that always requires a large element of luck to encounter.

Other bits of note included two Water Rails, four Lapwings, Curlew, a Dartford Warbler carrying food and a few juvenile Stonechats and Woodlarks.

Friday 13th

Two Swifts were over Eashing Fields late afternoon.

Saturday 14th

There was a lazy summer feel to my early morning walk around the Lammas Lands, with recently fledged Great Tits and Starlings noted as well as Linnets and Reed Buntings carrying food. Both male Sedge Warblers were still in song and four noisy Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew over.

I then headed to Shackleford, where three late Wheatears – seemingly all second-year birds – were pottering around. In fact these birds mark my latest ever spring record in Surrey. A drake Mandarin over was of note – only my second record here! It was good to confirm breeding success of the Stonechats too, with both adults feeding noisy chicks.


A Spotted Flycatcher and two Garden Warblers were along the river at Eashing later in the morning.

Sunday 15th

No birding.

Monday 16th

Late news of a Wood Warbler near Hambledon yesterday had me there early on this morning, which was rather grey and misty after a night of thundery showers. Alas there was no sign of the warbler, with a Marsh Tit and two Firecrests the consolation.

A decent passage of Swifts was taking place over Shackleford in the early evening, with perhaps 100 birds involved. The Stonechat pair were still busily feeding young but it was otherwise quiet.

Tuesday 17th

It was warm and hazy at Thursley this morning, with a session that had an end of season feel to it yielding 49 species. Three Little Egrets low over West Bog was perhaps the most notable observation, Snipe and Lapwing were displaying and a male Kestrel caught a Slowworm on High Ground. 

Wednesday 18th

No birding.

Monday, 9 May 2022

A sarnie amid the steadiness

The first week or two of May always through up some excitement locally. This has been the case this year, although in general things have been rather steady, lacking somewhat in both dynamism and numbers of migrants – much like spring 2022 as a whole. But, as always at this season, there's been loads to see and enjoy, and I can't turn my nose up at a period that produced a local lifer.

Sandwich Tern: my first south-west Surrey lifer in seven months.

Sunday 1st

On 1 May last year Dave and I broke the Thursley big day record with 76 species, so I thought I'd head out there today and see how many I could tally up today. Some five hours, 16 km and 20,000 steps later and I managed 75 – not bad at all. The highlight was a Little Ringed Plover over Pudmore early on, which was a welcome site first for me. A Yellow Wagtail followed overhead shortly afterwards.

Curlew, Snipe and Meadow Pipit were all in song on Ockley, with the latter presumably the same male I had at South Bog on 26 April. It'll be amazing if he pairs up and breeds. The three Lapwings were also around with both the males displaying. A Hobby over High Ground was a year first and I'm sure it was taking more than a passing interest in the light northward passage of hirundines that was taking place and involving all three species.

Lapwing action.

Excellent numbers of Woodlark included a family party of five birds near Crossbill Corner. Several presumed second brood males were in voice again too. Four Garden and 12 Willow Warblers were singing, as well as a decent five Tree Pipits. The biggest omission of the morning was Treecreeper! 

I checked Tuesley late afternoon. A striking Lesser Black-backed Gull caught my eye and seemed to fit intermedius. It was smaller than graellsii birds nearby and, most notably, had much darker upperparts. Dark enough to rule out a Dutch intergrade? I'm not sure. Intermedius is very rare locally and I've only ever seen one before in south-west Surrey …

Intermedius-type LBB (right-hand bird).

Two Hobbies flew east as well, spooking the gathered hirundines as they went.

Monday 2nd

A Whimbrel heading north over the garden was a real surprise this morning and a welcome 1 km (and garden) tick. It's been a great spring for inland passage of this species …

Later on I walked Shackleford, where a quiet but pleasant hour-and-a-half stroll produced a male Greenland Wheatear, two Ravens, a distant singing Cuckoo and a Little Owl.

Little Owl and Wheatear.

Observations during an afternoon bike ride included two Nightingales, Siskin and Garden Warbler at Milford Common, Yellowhammer, Redstart and Willow Warbler at Witley Common and Kingfisher, two Common Terns, two Firecrests and a Reed Warbler at Enton Lakes.


Tuesday 3rd

A strange morning at Tuesley. The remains of a Whimbrel were a grim early discovery and looked to be the work of a fox. A sad end for a bird on a long journey … four Little Egrets over was a whacky May record indeed – I wonder what they were up to?

Three Yellow Wagtails went over before the session was capped off by two very much alive Whimbrel that circled before heading south. What a bonkers spring for this species – I've now had 11 individuals locally (zero last year; usually one or two annually).

Whimbrel and ex-Whimbrel.

My first Swift of the year was in a mixed flock of some 100 hirundines at Frensham Great Pond in the evening.

Wednesday 4th

A promising forecast coupled with a big movement of birds up the Severn yesterday meant I was staking out Tuesley from first light. It started well, too, with two Whimbrel going north at 05:33. I appreciate I'm repeating myself a bit now, but what a totally nuts spring for this species, something noticed by other patch-watchers in the South-East.

More Whimbrel ...

Unfortunately the promised rain never came, and my vigil was pretty quiet save a light passage of Swallows and Sand Martins, a Yellow Wagtail and my fourth Tuesley Kingfisher. I was packing my stuff up at 07:25 when a familiar call came from overhead: Sandwich Tern!

I picked the bird up heading steadily south – I had to unpack my camera and thus only got poor record shots. I presumed it had gone, but about a minute later it reappeared, this time flying low north, treating me to sensational views. It disappeared to the north – a brilliant encounter over in minutes.

Sandwich Tern.

Only my second Surrey record, and a first for me in south-west Surrey (number 185), this marked a very pleasing find after the relative slog of the last few weeks. The last south-west Surrey record came at Unstead SF in May 2015 – there have only been six records in the 21st century and the nature of this species' brevity when passing through inland counties makes this morning feel especially fortunate.

Thursday 5th

I was back in the Dunsfold area today, visiting Painshill Farm again. This time I did score Lesser Whitethroat – a rather mobile and skulking male that was occasionally giving some song. A second bird may have been present too. Thanks to Graham for the tip-off. 

Lesser Whitethroat.

It really is mad how rare and localised this species is in south-west Surrey, with two adjacent sites in the Dunsfold area the only places they're reliably found (and even then they can be tricky). In fact, a look through my records suggests this was only the 11th time I've seen Lesser Whitethroat in south-west Surrey – crazy!

Two each of Nightingale and Garden Warbler and singles of Cuckoo, Yellowhammer and Skylark were in song as well, while a Raven cronked away to the south-east.

Friday 6th

Both Sedge Warblers were still going for it on the Lammas Lands this morning, where a breeding-plumage Little Egret dropped into Hell Ditch and a Grey Wagtail was taking food into a nest.

Little Egret.

Saturday 7th

The Surrey 5km bird race challenge today saw Sam and I (joined in part by Dave and Matt) conduct a massive 15-hour session in the field. A separate post about our efforts can be read here.

Sunday 8th

No observations of note.

Monday 9th

No birding today.

Surrey 5 km bird race challenge

On Saturday [7 May] Sam and I took part in the Surrey 5 km bird race challenge, joined at times by Dave and Matt. The idea of the challenge was for teams of birders to see how many species they could record within a 5 km radius of their home or patch. Emphasis was on going as green as possible (i.e. car sharing, using a bike etc) and a finish time of 18:00 was agreed. Our team (Teal Madrid) opted for a 5km radius of Eashing.

The Eashing 5 km ...

Having done a bit of prep, we agreed pre-race we'd be happy with 85 species. Anyway, Sam and I met at the heinous time of 02:45 and we headed to the Peperharow in search of owls. Moorhen was weirdly the first bird of the day at the former site but we only scored Little Owl and, having dipped Tawny Owl and Woodcock at Puttenham, we moved south to Milford Common, where three Nightingales were giving it welly in the darkness.

We then headed to Thursley, arriving just before 04:00. It was quite atmospheric watching the sun rise and the site light up as birdsong commenced all around us. We knew we needed a decent session here if we were to have a good day total and thankfully the common delivered. Key species that we logged included Water Rail, Nightjar, Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe, with Wheatear and Siskin very welcome 'bonus birds'. A Sedge Warbler singing at Pudmore was a surprise as well.

Curlew and Wheatear.

After three-and-a-half hours here we moved on to Tuesley (scoring Swift and House Martin in Milford en route), where two Common Sandpipers were very welcome. Lesser Black-backed Gull – a potentially slippery customer – was also logged. We added a few common waterbirds at Enton afterwards, as well as our only Reed Warblers of the day.

After dipping Yellowhammer near Hydestile we headed to Witley Common, where the sole male was in song. Garden Warbler and Jay were also added. It was then on to Eashing, where we ticked Red-legged Partridge without getting out the car. 

We then walked the river at Eashing, with Marsh Tit the target. We eventually scored our quarry but also left with two more bonus birds: Surrey's first Spotted Flycatcher of the year (a 1 km tick for me!) and a flyover Little Egret.

Spotted Flycatcher (Matt's photo).

A pit-stop for coffee at mine saw Grey Wagtail added to the list while in the garden. Shackleford was up next and we got a few smart bits here, not least two Yellow Wagtails. Hobby, Kestrel and Wheatear were also noted. Still needing some common waterbirds we headed to Cutt Mill – we didn't get said common species, but drake Teal and Gadwall were most unexpected on the house pond.

Needing a rest, we headed back to Thursley for a long lunchbreak and skywatch. This added Sparrowhawk and Grey Heron (!) but not much else, despite promising showers and cloud. We still didn't have Cormorant – by now our only obvious omission – so headed back to Enton. None there, but three Sand Martins were another bonus. 

The Lammas Lands delivered Kingfisher but Broadwater failed to produce Cormorant, so we hastily headed onto Loseley, where Raven was easily added: number 96. Desperate, we went back to Enton where, at last, two Cormorants were on the island at Johnson's. With about two hours to go and lacking energy we decided to go back to Shackleford and stake it out, in the hope of perhaps a Whinchat or Peregrine. 

Unfortunately we didn't add anything here, though the Wheatear, two Ravens and only our second Green Woodpecker of the day were present. Knackered, we dragged ourselves to where we started: Peperharow. Here we finally heard a couple of Ring-necked Parakeets – number 98. We still had the best part of an hour to play with but were happy to call it a day, very pleased with our score (which proved to be the winning score out of 19 teams). We'd walked more than 30,000 steps by the end of it as well!

Our only obvious omission was Woodcock – I'm not sure how we didn't get one at Thursley or Puttenham. Only one of us saw Barn Owl, so we couldn't include it. Cetti's Warbler never seemed on the cards this year alas, with other possibilities we didn't get including Peregrine, Crossbill and Lesser Redpoll.