Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Icing on the cake

Another fun week of birding has been the icing on a quality August cake. Perhaps my favourite month (vying with March) consistently produces the goods and 2022 has been vintage. It's a wonderful time of year when virtually anywhere will deliver something, and migration can be enjoyed right on your doorstep. September I find to be a far more Jekyll and Hyde month – lets see what it brings this year.


Thursday 25th

The sun was out by lunchtime following a morning of heavy rain. A quick walk of Eashing Fields produced two smart Whinchats in The Meadow – clearly this is a good site for this species. A juvenile Greylag Goose in Top Field was rather strange. 

Greylag Goose and Whinchats.

Friday 26th

A morning of fog gave way to warm sunshine and I did a walk of Eashing Fields late morning. The Whinchats were still present but today were outshone by a southbound Tree Pipit – a site and 1 km patch first. A scruffy adult Little Egret heading low south was perhaps more unexpected and only my second here.

Little Egret.

Saturday 27th

It was bright and sunny this morning, and a big walk at Witley and Milford Commons began with a surprise: a Hawfinch in flight over the southern end of Witley. The bird was seen on two occasions but disappeared to the south. Always very rare on the heaths around here (and indeed anywhere west of Godalming) this was a peculiar record – and only the third Witley Common sighting in the last 35 years!

Other bits at Witley included Spotted Flycatcher, Firecrest, two Dartford Warblers and a presumably local Tree Pipit. A mighty 13 Bullfinches were counted across both commons.

Robin and Spotted Flycatcher.

Milford was heaving with birds but the best I could prize out of the mixed flocks were two Garden Warblers and a Willow Warbler, while a Tree Pipit low south was probably a migrant. I was delighted to see two juvenile Dartford Warblers on the recently opened up heath (see my post from 9 August). This looks like the first breeding record for Milford, presuming they were locally born.

I ended at Mare Hill, where a notable southerly passage of hirundines (including a single Sand Martin) was enjoyed while sipping coffee on the bench. Spotted Flycatcher and Sparrowhawk were seen, too, and a Dartford Warbler was heard – Mare Hill is another site where excellent heathland restoration has resulted in the colonisation of this species.

Sunday 28th

No birding.

Monday 29th

It was a rather grim start to the Bank Holiday Monday, with a moribund juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at Tuesley. The poor bird either had botulism or avian flu. Whatever the case, it was a sad way to encounter what's a rare bird around these parts.

Moribund Yellow-legged Gull.

I then did a big walk, starting on The Hurtwood where things were very quiet – indeed, a calling Willow Warbler was my only discernible migrant during an hour-long session. It was pleasing however to log Dartford Warbler, after no sightings here since January.

It was livelier down towards Hambledon at Little Burgate and Court Farms. There were still no grounded migrants to prize out, but a wonderful flock of finches feeding in a mixed cover crop held my attention for a while. I estimated some 350 Goldfinches (including many juveniles) and 50 or more Linnets. A female Yellowhammer was nearby and hirundine passage was underway high above.


A distant raptor to the north, beyond Hydon's Ball, caught my attention and, despite the considerable range, I was delighted to confirm it as a female-type Marsh Harrier. My first of the year, the bird's cream cap gleamed in the morning sunshine as it battled east into the increasing breeze. 

This is the second year in a row I've witnessed Marsh Harriers tracking the Greensand Ridge, and the third successive August in which I've had the luck to encounter this species locally. Amazingly I didn't see a single Buzzard or Red Kite all morning!

A warm and breezy late afternoon stroll around Peper Harow produced a surprise Tree Pipit south over Jackman's Hill. Swallows and House Martins were moving east into the wind, two riotous Ring-necked Parakeets were around the village and two Clouded Yellows were at Norney Farm.

Tuesday 30th

No birding.

Wednesday 31st

The first Shoveler of the autumn was back on Snowdenham Mill Pond this morning, where a drake Gadwall, the Mute Swan family and a Kingfisher were also noted. A Firecrest was calling nearby.

Mute Swan and Shoveler.

At Enton Lakes, a couple of Sand Martins were among the Swallows zipping over Johnson's, a Reed Warbler was calling at Richardson Lake and a young Willow Warbler was fly-catching from a buddleia.

A quick check of Eashing Fields late morning turned out to be a hugely productive – if rather breezy – 35 minutes. Almost as soon as I got to Top Field I picked up a seriously high Osprey heading west. Annoyingly my camera refused to focus, but I settled on distant views as it disappeared from view. A quality 1 km bird and my fourth of the year in south-west Surrey.

The main reason I'd popped out was to try and get Yellow Wagtail on my 1 km list. This duly happened some 20 minutes after the Osprey had gone through, with two birds dropping in briefly before powering off south. A fine end to a quality month locally.

Yellow Wagtails.

Wednesday, 24 August 2022


A brilliant August week has come to an end. With a bit of variety in the weather (at last) the birding has been relatively dynamic as a result, even if wader passage continues to stutter. Some prize finds and no fewer than three local year ticks – including what may prove to be south-west Surrey's bird of the year – has capped off a fun seven days.

Pied Flycatcher at Hydon's Ball.

Thursday 18th

July and August so far have been super quiet at Tuesley, with the largely clear and fine weather rendering inland wader passage a mere trickle. A visit this morning, which was grey and muggy, did however produce a smart juvenile Mediterranean Gull, in with a small flock of Black-heads. It disappeared south after a short while. A Hobby shot over as well.

Juvenile Mediterranean Gull amid Black-headed Gulls.

With so little to twitch in south-west Surrey this year I decided I'd go for a Grasshopper Warbler at Thursley, which Dave had found, even though the chances of relocating an autumn bird are generally zero. And so it proved, with no further sign of the bird, and thus the species still evades my local year list (sadly there was no breeding this year, after success from 2019-2021). 

A Whinchat and two Spotted Flycatchers at Shrike Hill were some consolation.

Friday 19th

My first wader anywhere for more than two weeks was a decent one at Tuesley this morning: a juvenile Ringed Plover. Presumably overnight rain had brought the bird down. This was a far more enjoyable encounter than my only other 2022 record – a fleeting adult on 22 April.

Juvenile Ringed Plover.

Later on, what was supposed to be a quick walk of Eashing Fields turned into an hour-long session that produced my best-ever species haul at this site (37). Light fronts of rain meant some moderate hirundine passage was underway and two Sand Martins were well received – these marked a 1 km first for me, meaning I've hit my target of 90 species in the radius this year.

A greater surprise was two Spotted Flycatchers foraging noisily along Eashing Lane. A bird I didn't expect here, they brought up another landmark of sorts – species number 75 for Eashing Fields.

Spotted Flycatcher.

Saturday 20th

A cracking August morning. The clear skies and cool start to the day meant I started later than usual at Hydon's Ball, which I visited with Pied Flycatcher on my mind as the incredible influx into England continues. It was a quiet start, but at the top of Octavia Hill I bumped into a massive mixed flock, with one Spotted Flycatcher, three Willow Warblers and two Firecrests soon picked out.

On the periphery of this group was my target – a female-type Pied Flycatcher. It was a really mobile bird and hard to get views of, let alone photograph. Eventually it made its way up to the top of the hill and posed briefly in the early morning sun. A cool species at an unheralded site –  local birding at its best!

Pied Flycatcher.

Not long after the Pied Fly vanished into the wood I had a call from Shaun, who'd found a Greenshank at Frensham Little Pond. The top of Hydon's Ball to Frensham is a bit of a hike in south-west Surrey terms but I couldn't resist, with 'shank a notable absentee from my local year list. 

With the flycatcher lost I upped sticks – and it was worth it, with the Greenshank present in the south-east corner. It was a bit incongruous watching one here, foraging along tiny slivers of mud exposed by the drought and wading in the shallows. It's the third local year tick Shaun has got me on this year and I had the added bonus of his company for this one. 


Sunday 21st

No birding.

Monday 22nd

It was bright and misty at the Lammas Lands this morning, which felt somewhat birdy. A Tree Pipit flushed on Catteshall Meadow underlined this – unsurprisingly a first here. They're always nice to score on passage. A Sedge Warbler was booted up in similar fashion and I expect this was a migrant, with the breeders last seen at the end of June.


Two Spotted Flycatchers were knocking about near Eashing Marsh on the way home, though this stretch of the river was otherwise quiet.

Tuesday 23rd

A species total of 42 was good going at Shackleford this morning, not least because I didn't see a single passerine migrant! Three Snipe over the alfalfa was a whacky record not just for here, but for the time of year as well. Singles of Raven, Sparrowhawk and Reed Bunting were also spotted, as well as a flock of 330 Starlings that included plenty of juveniles.

Wednesday 24th

A grey and muggy morning began at Tuesley, where an unfamiliar-looking wader on the far shore caused brief excitement, only to reveal itself as a Snipe! A rather weird record for here (only my second 'on the rubber') and presumably part of some local passage underway at present, given my Shackleford sighting yesterday.


To my pleasant surprise a warbler booted up from a nearby ditch proved to be a Grasshopper Warbler. I feared this species may give me the slip this year but persistent effort in recent weeks finally paid off. Plenty must go through south-west Surrey, but seeing them is an altogether different prospect … that said, Eric was able to connect later on. 

It was sunny and warm by the early evening, when a trip to Thursley proved memorable to say the least – a Wryneck was at Truxford Corner! The bird was super elusive and went missing for long periods, but pleasingly everyone twitching it eventually connected.

It took Dave the best part of two hours to clap eyes on it and I was mightily relieved when he did. Impressively it was his 150th Thursley bird – and what a fine one to bring up such a tally. What a beauty it was, and wonderful views were obtained before it went to roost. Peak local birding … it was great to see Doug, Penny and Gerry too. Hopefully it sticks for more folks to enjoy tomorrow.


When processing photos at home I was astonished to see the bird had a metal ring on its left leg. I confess to not noticing this in the field. After much detective work, it was established as a BTO ring, with 'X9' the only part of the code I could read. However, to my amazement, this matches with a bird ringed at Landguard, Suffolk, five days prior on 19 August ('TX94072', see here). The wonders of migration!

Wryneck is a real local rarity. This is the ninth record since 1990, but only the second since 2002. And one of merely five since 1994. It's also the first for Thursley in almost exactly two decades. The full list is below.

Other bits included my first Green Sandpiper of the month at Pudmore, with this statistic emphasising how poor return wader passage has been. A Whinchat was on Shrike Hill, a Spotted Flycatcher was at Will Reeds, five Snipe flew over West Bog and a decent number of Tree Pipits were dotted around.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Good old August

I've lost count of how many times I've waxed lyrical about the month of August for patch-birding, both on this blog and elsewhere. But there's good reason for it – it's a lovely time to be in the field. The weather is invariable nice and summer-like, but migration is well underway and there are often a few surprises to be enjoyed, as has been the case during the last week.

Lapwings at Thursley Common at dawn.

Thursday 11th

It was warm early on at Puttenham Common and Cutt Mill, where I managed a decent 42 species. The highlight was no fewer than three Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers – one near the middle car park and an adult and juvenile in a mixed species flock south of Hillbury. Perhaps part of a family party ... An adult and juvenile Spotted Flycatcher were in the same flock.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Spotted Flycatcher.

Other bits included five Tree Pipits, two Redstarts, three Woodlarks and a Willow Warbler, while four Kingfishers and five Mandarin were around the ponds.

Friday 12th

Another warm, pleasant morning. At Unstead Water Meadows three Lapwings were a real surprise in a recently cut meadow at Upper Unstead Farm. Surprisingly rare here, presumably they'd been displaced by the drought. Three Sedge Warblers, including a juvenile, were nice to see near Bunkers Hill Farm and a Willow Warbler was in a mixed flock.

Sedge Warblers and Lapwing.

Popping into Secrett's Farm Shop on the way home produced another unexpected sighting: a Reed Warbler picking about in a willow by the small ornamental pond. I love incongruous sightings like this, which are typical of August. A juvenile Willow Warbler was also a surprise, but it was overshadowed on this occasion. And neither eclipse my best-ever bird here – a female Wigeon back in January 2015!

Willow and Reed Warblers.

Heading back through Eashing Fields – by which point it was hot – produced my third Willow Warbler of the morning, subsinging quietly near Eashing Lane.

Saturday 13th

A big early morning walk around Thursley was enjoyable, with 49 species logged. The best bird was a female-type Yellowhammer than flew in from the south and landed north-west of Spur Wood – only the second site record of the year and, nowadays, of note anywhere in the Godalming area.


Singles of Whinchat and Wheatear were signs of migration, along with a good number of Willow Warblers. Two Spotted Flycatchers were seen, as well as two each of Lapwing and Water Rail, a Snipe and a Kingfisher.

Whinchat, Wheatear and Snipe.

Sunday 14th

It's rare that you go birding with a specific rare species in mind and your plan of finding one actually pays off, but that was the case this morning at Hindhead Common. A couple of hours carefully sifting through the mixed species flocks in the Devil's Punch Bowl was enjoyable, with a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, a few Marsh Tits and Redstarts and a Tree Pipit of note – but no Pied Flycatcher.

I was heading back and had reached the top of Sugar Loaf Hill when I spotted a bird flying into a pine. It eventually came closer, revealing itself as a smart female-type Pied Flycatcher. It hung around for a while before vanishing, although a few folks later connected with it. Upon analysing my photos, the tertials, median covert bar and moult limit in the coverts suggest it's a first-winter.

Pied Flycatcher.

A notable influx of Pied Flycatcher into England (amazingly for the third August out of the past four years) began on Friday with the easterlies just right. I've always thought Hindhead looks good for them and it was very satisfying that this played out today – reminiscent of a trip to Chiddingfold Forest almost exactly two years ago. It also represented a fine addition to my local year list, which is now up to 144.

It was hot and muggy by the time I did a late afternoon walk around Eashing Fields. It was quiet as a result, with only 12 species noted, but one of them was a Whinchat – a 1 km tick for me and a species I'd earmarked for this site since I first visited in January. A satisfying Sunday.


Monday 15th

I walked along the river this morning, starting at the Lammas Lands where a Wheatear was one of the first birds noted at Catteshall Meadow. As far as I can tell this is the first site record! 


Other notable bits included only my second Lammas Lands sightings of Willow Warbler (foraging along Hell Ditch) and Raven (high overhead). A juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull flew low south-west – perhaps it was born in Farncombe?

The Eashing stretch was quieter, with two Marsh Tits by Eashing Marsh and a Firecrest near Hurtmore Bottom. 

Late at night a wildlife audio recorder I'm reviewing for the magazine picked up a Common Sandpiper going over the garden – a cool record. A Tawny Owl was also logged and the now regular Hedgehog family were also picked up.

Tuesday 16th

I popped up to Eashing Fields on my lunchbreak after a morning of rain (remember that stuff?). Presumably the same Whinchat as Sunday was still present, along with my first Reed Bunting here since the end of March.


Wednesday 17th

No birding.