Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Friday, 30 September 2022

In limbo

The feeling of being in limbo has continued during the last 10 days, though there have been flashes of excitement . Perhaps the highlight was two Marsh Harriers close to home, though a second local Garganey record of the year was significant. Stonechat passage has peaked, the first trickle of Redwings have gone through and a steady exodus of hirundines has taken place as well. Throw in some waterbody 'patch gold' surprises and a locally rare Lesser Whitethroat, then it's not been too bad.

Marsh Harrier.

Wednesday 21st

It felt like a waterbody kind of morning, following a calm and clear night, so I did a local sweep. I started at Eashing Farm where patch gold greeted me on the reservoir: not one, but two Little Grebes

Little Grebes.

Save a Mallard pair back in April these grebes are the only birds I've ever seen on the new reservoir here, thus representing a great 1 km year tick. There's one previous Eashing area Little Grebe record that I can find: a bird on the Wey that Peter had back in 1990. A true mega.

I headed to Frensham Great Pond afterwards. As I walked down to one of the swims I noticed a small Tufted Duck flock not far from the shore. A quick scan revealed, to my surprise, a female-type Garganey tagging along with them. The flock immediately flushed, before I could even put my 'scope down.

The Garganey separated and headed to the east end, quickly vanishing into the reeds – and it didn't reappear in the next half-hour. It was a bit frustrating not to get prolonged views or a photo but still a nice surprise, following a bumper year for Garganey nationally. It could easily be several years before I see another in south-west Surrey.

There was a nice variety of wildfowl today: my first Pochard of the autumn (a juvenile) was with a different group of tufties, a moulting drake Shoveler was at the north-west end and two Teal were one of few records I've had at the Great Pond. Little Egret and Kingfisher were noted as well.


Thursday 22nd

A drake Pochard was most unexpected in the mist at Tuesley this morning. A site first for me, strangely it was one of just two ducks present. Tuesley has had a poor autumn and never does well for wildfowl, so this was a particularly notable record …


I checked Eashing Farm on the way back and was rewarded with a heard-only flyover Snipe, which may have been flushed from the stubble field. Another 1 km year tick ...

Friday 23rd

No birding.

Saturday 24th

A rather cold northerly was blowing during a big morning walk around Shackleford and Puttenham. Impressive numbers of passage Stonechats were at Lydling Farm – at least 16, including a single group of 10. A Tree Pipit flew south, a covey of Red-legged Partridges hid in the maize and decent numbers of Goldfinch (120) and Skylark (35) were counted.

Stonechats and Red-legged Partridge.

Over the road, a Lesser Whitethroat was a real surprise in hawthorns by the wildfowling pond. A local rare, the bird was vocal albeit always distant. Amazingly only my third autumn passage lesserthroat in south-west Surrey!

Lesser Whitethroat.

By the time I got to Puttenham Common the sun was out and it was predictably busy. Two Woodlarks and a Siskin highlighted – the latter species notable by their absence so far this autumn. Two Kingfishers and a Mandarin were at Cutt Mill.

As it was such a nice day I took an innocuous stroll along the river mid-afternoon. Upon getting to Greenways Farm I spotted two raptors drifting slowly south. I raised my bins and was astonished to see the first bird was a juvenile Marsh Harrier. So, imagine my shock when I panned to the other individual and it too was a Marsh Harrier!

Juvenile female and immature male Marsh Harriers.

I watched the birds for a few minutes as they cruised over my head. What a bonkers sighting – a single Marsh Harrier is cause for celebration around here, but two migrating together is nuts. I reckon the second bird was a second-year male, adding to the craziness of the record (it'd seem slightly more normal if they were both juveniles). I'd love to know what sort of journey they were on …  Amazing scenes for a few hundred metres from home – number 99 for my 1 km year list. 

The rest of the walk was fairly quiet, though a Firecrest was calling in Milton Wood.

Sunday 25th

It felt wintry at Painshill Farm this morning, a feeling enhanced by a flyover Redwing: my first of the autumn. Three Yellowhammers and a Raven were about and a female Stonechat was a site first for me here. 


The ongoing Stonechat passage was in evidence at Eashing Fields late afternoon, with at least six dotted around, along with a Whinchat.

Monday 26th

Almost no time in the field today, but I couldn't resist an afternoon twitch to Oxfordshire for the Common Nighthawk (see here). An incredible and ridiculous record …


Tuesday 27th

A pleasant morning walk around the Lammas Lands produced 41 species, with the highlight a fairly late first-winter Reed Warbler poking around in Hell Ditch on Catteshall Meadow. A female Teal downriver was only my second site record and a flock of five Redwings tseep-ed north-west. 

Reed Warbler and Redwings.

Some 35 Meadow Pipits were present as well, but I only saw two Stonechats and no Snipe.

Wednesday 28th

Thursley looked magnificent in the autumn sunshine this morning, but it was quiet on the bird front. A late Tree Pipit was around the tumulus, two Redwings flew west and three noisy Ravens were about.

Tree Pipit and Ravens.

Thursday 29th

No birding.

Friday 30th

A fun hour and a half at Eashing Fields this morning produced 45 species – a new record for me here. Not bad for what's basically a couple of dog-walking fields! The clear highlight was a female-type Yellowhammer that dropped into the hedgerow between The Meadow and Bottom Field, before seeming to fly off south-west. However, I saw presumably the same bird again an hour later.


Increasingly tricky locally, Yellowhammer is a new Eashing area bird for me, bringing me to the mighty 100 for the year in my 1 km. I'm quite pleased with this tally, having targeted 90 when I moved in January. It was especially nice that one of my favourite species brought up the magic number as well …

Other bits included 13 Redwings south (including a group of five), eight Stonechats, seven Reed Buntings, an increase in Skylarks and only my second Eashing Fields record of Treecreeper

Skylark and Stonechat.

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Betwixt and between

After the excitement of the last few weeks, things have calmed down considerably during the past 10 days. While mid-September has produced the spectacular for me before, more often than not it can be very quiet, sitting awkwardly between the always productive late August period but before 'autumn proper' that gets underway at the end of the month. This lull has been nicely timed, however, with a busy period for me meaning most of my recent birding has been in the 1 km.

Osprey: my fifth local bird of the year.

Sunday 11th

At least five Clouded Yellows were seen over the alfalfa at Norney Farm during an afternoon bike ride.

Monday 12th

It was still and mild at Thursley this morning and felt good, though the migrant roll call was a familiar one, with singles of Whinchat, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher and Yellow Wagtail seen. Most notable was a southerly movement of Grey Wagtails – four in total. I find early to mid-September is peak time for vis-mig of the species around here.

On the way home Rodborough Common was typically quiet, though a calling Marsh Tit was nice. 

It was livelier at Milford Common, where a flyover Yellowhammer was a surprise, though depressingly the first within a 3 km radius of home this year. Another Grey Wagtail flew south, along with a Tree Pipit. A Sparrowhawk pair and six Bullfinches were also noted.


Tuesday 13th

I popped up to Eashing Fields for an hour early afternoon and it was rather birdy in the grey, drizzly conditions. Three-figures of hirundines were heading north into the breeze; a steady trickle of Meadow Pipits were going the other way, with a few Yellow Wagtails among them. Starlings also seemed to be moving on some scale with three flocks over north-west.

On the deck, three each of Whinchat and Stonechat were in The Meadow and a mobile Reed Bunting was roving around.

Whinchat and Stonechat.

Wednesday 14th

A drizzly, grey morning was illuminated by a remarkable five minutes at Eashing Farm. While forlornly scanning the tiny farm reservoir here for a 1 km Coot or Little Grebe I noticed the local corvids began kicking off – and then I picked up a juvenile Osprey cruising low and slowly south-west.

The bird circled the res once then continued on its way, doubtless sped up by its now large corvid escort. A cracking sight to behold and my fifth local bird of the year (my second in the 1 km!). I suspect it may have roosted along the river valley somewhere.


I was about to head back when I heard the familiar – albeit totally unanticipated – call of a Ringed Plover! The vocal bird moved through in a flash, clearly on a mission despite dropping down to check out the sliver of water here. Easily my most unlikely 1 km bird of the year (so far) and a rather outrageous record in general.

The rain of the last 20 or so hours finally abated late morning, and I headed up to Eashing Fields. Needless to say it felt good, with an impressive flock of 80 Meadow Pipits grounded in Top Field. Two Tree Pipits were among them – my first on the deck here. 

Two Yellow Wagtails flew south, the three Whinchats were still around, three Reed Buntings were in The Meadow and a steady stream of Swallows moved north. I doubt there'll be many other days where I see such a selection of birds within several hundred metres of home.

Thursday 15th

No birding.

Friday 16th

It was the coldest it's felt for absolutely ages this morning. I walked the Lammas Lands early on, which were quiet indeed – seven Stonechats and singles of Kingfisher and House Martin highlighted.

I popped up to Eashing Fields late afternoon, where a brisk northerly was whipping round. The gathered hirundines had attracted the attention of a juvenile Hobby, which circled Top Field several times before cruising south. I haven’t seen as many Hobbies as usual this autumn – maybe they had a bad breeding season.


Saturday 17th

There was a light frost on the ground at Thursley this morning, where a lengthy session was unsurprisingly quiet in the clear and cold north-westerly. Migrant highlights included a late adult Willow Warbler, singles of Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail and two Tree Pipits.


A decent north-westerly push of House Martins numbered a couple of hundred birds at least. A Grayling was on the wing near Woodpigeon Wood as well.

Sunday 18th

No birding.

Monday 19th

It was a grey, flat morning, and I popped up to Eashing Farm where an impressive gathering of 300 or more hirundines were over the reservoir. They were mainly House Martins, with many juveniles present, though more than 100 Swallows were there and I picked out at least one Sand Martin.


Tuesday 20th

No birding.

Saturday, 10 September 2022

10 out of 10

It's been a brilliant opening 10 days of September, with the month picking up where August left off. The first few days saw an exciting run of easterlies; when the wind is blowing from that direction, the South-East birder knows it's time to get in the field as much as possible. It went westerly and wet after that, but the entertainment only ceased a little. As a result this is a long post with plenty of photos …

A wonderful Wood Sandpiper at Pudmore, Thursley Common.

Thursday 1st

A breezy easterly blew under grey skies this morning and it felt both autumnal and birdy from the off at Thursley, where a light southwards passage of Yellow Wagtails was underway. Pudmore initially seemed quiet, save a few Water Rails, Teal and Snipe, but then a juvenile Sparrowhawk shot through and put up a medium-sized wader – to my great surprise it was a Ruff!

The bird, a peachy juvenile, flew around West Bog but then returned, only to vanish. However, after five or so minutes it reappeared on the far shore and I was able to soak up distant but pleasing views of this wonderful wader. The habitat at Pudmore is identical to the places where this species breeds in northern Scandinavia and it was quite evocative seeing this bird potter around here.

Juvenile Ruff.

Needless to say Ruff is a great rarity locally, with this just the third record in south-west Surrey since the Millenium. It's also a Thursley mega – only three previous occurrences, thus rarer then Wryneck! – so Dave was quick to twitch. He got brief views before it appeared to fly off …

By this point I was now racing to get home for work, but two Whinchats, a Tree Pipit, three Redstarts and my first Meadow Pipit of the autumn were noted nonetheless.


There were a few distractions during my hoped for hasty journey through Eashing Fields on the way back. Best of all was a Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge between Bottom Field and The Meadow – a real local goodie. In fact, only the fourth I've ever seen on passage in south-west Surrey. A quality 1 km bird … 

At least five Whinchats (but possibly as many as seven) were in The Meadow and a Tree Pipit flew south. Phew. A thunderous start to September!

I couldn't resist a quick walk along the river at lunchtime – and it proved worthwhile. One of the first birds I saw at Greenways Farm was a juvenile Cuckoo. Easily my latest-ever British record (and first in the month of September), the bird was tame and performed superbly as it flew around and foraged on the ground. Not a 1 km tick I'd have predicted for September that's for sure.

Juvenile Cuckoo.

A Spotted Flycatcher was flitting around further along the path towards Eashing Marsh. It too showed nicely.

Spotted Flycatcher.

Friday 2nd

It was rather damp and dreary at the Lammas Lands this morning, where a Whinchat was on Catteshall Meadow, getting a bit of grief off the Stonechats. It was otherwise very quiet.


I popped up to Eashing Fields at lunch where quite the spectacle greeted me in The Meadow – a group of nine Whinchats. I've never seen so many in Surrey before and to watch them zipping around a small area together was remarkable.


Two Stonechats were with them, while a Hobby shot through south and a Yellow Wagtail flew over during a lively visit.

Saturday 3rd

With the easterlies still blowing, today always felt like it'd be good – and it was. After a foggy start I got to Lower Barrihurst Farm, near Dunsfold, later than usual. The sun was out and there were heaps of birds around – I counted a minimum 35 Blackcaps, with plenty of Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats present as well.

Three Willow Warblers were also noted, although two Lesser Whitethroats may well have been local, as this is the only breeding location in south-west Surrey.

Lesser Whitethroat.

Best of all came near the old sewage works, when a Grasshopper Warbler flushed up from some long grass. It landed in a thicket, where I was surprised to see it joined by another! It was quite strange watching these two skulkers hop around a hedge for a while, but very cool nonetheless.

Grasshopper Warbler. Both birds can be seen in two of the photos.

It really felt like 'the big one' would pop out at any moment but it wasn't to be. Other bits from this brilliant, Knepp-like site (see my post from 24 April) included a Spotted Flycatcher, three Ravens and, sadly, the remains of a Barn Owl.

Barn Owl feathers.

I was contemplating my next move when Doug and Penny messaged with news of a Wood Sandpiper at Pudmore – one of my most wanted species locally! Thankfully the bird, a smart juvenile, was very settled and I was treated to brilliant views as it probed around Pudmore.

Wood Sandpiper.

Thursley is traditionally a good site for this south-west Surrey rarity but there hasn't been a record since June 2019. A monumental downpour (including some hail) added to the atmospheric experience. To boot, this was 150 for my south-west Surrey year list – a lovely way to hit that figure.

Four Whinchats dropped in during the rain, with a Wheatear, three Snipe and two Meadow Pipits also about. A Raven flew over too. What a great couple of weeks it's been for Thursley …

A short walk along the river before dinner was quiet although, to my surprise, the juvenile Cuckoo was still knocking about at Greenways Farm.


Sunday 4th

I was back in the Dunsfold area this morning, this time at Painshill Farm, but with the wind switching direction overnight it didn't feel so birdy. In fact I didn't detect a single migrant, though a monstrous juvenile Goshawk flying low north was a surprise. 

Two Yellowhammers, five Red-legged Partridges and a Raven were also present, while a single flock of 22 Collared Doves were sat together in a tree.

Male Yellowhammer.

Monday 5th

You have to enjoy a rare bird when it visits your patch, so this morning I decided to head out to Pudmore for some quality time with the juvenile Wood Sandpiper. I was surprised, however, that the first bird I saw out there was the juvenile Ruff


Doubtless lurking here since 1st, I suspect the raised water levels have forced it out of its favoured haunts and it was thus more obvious today. It was still skittish and generally elusive, though.

On the other hand, the Wood Sandpiper was super showy, and for the next hour-and-a-half I simply sat back and enjoyed the views. Wood Sand is one of my favourite species and this bird was so confiding. I make no apologies for the number of photos below – it was a truly special encounter.

Wood Sandpiper.

Other bits included three Whinchats, two Yellow Wagtails, a Meadow Pipit, two Tree Pipits and a Spotted Flycatcher, but it was all about the waders today …

Tuesday 6th

It's been a seriously sluggish start to autumn at Shackleford with chat passage especially poor – such is the cyclical nature of arable farmland birding. After a night of thundery showers the quiet run continued this morning, with a Willow Warbler the only migrant of note. 

Two Sparrowhawks and Reed Bunting were also present, while the highlight was a bold Stoat.

Stoat and Grey Heron.

Wednesday 7th

A damp early morning walk of Unstead Water Meadows and the Lammas Lands was very quiet. At the latter site two Whinchats were on Catteshall Meadow, amid an increase of Stonechats (six).


After a busy day at work I'd just settled down to watch Ajax-Rangers when Shaun P called with news from Frensham: a Black Tern at the Great Pond! For some time this species has been my obvious 'tart's tick' not just locally, but in Surrey as a whole, not least due to my refusal to twitch any outside of south-west Surrey.

Needless to say I was down there in a flash and there it was – a cracking juvenile working the northern side, fluttering down to the surface to pick off the prey with regularity. Thanks a lot to Shaun (as ever), though I'm hopeful he still has another goodie under his belt this year. It was also nice to see Jonathan H on site.

Juvenile Black Tern.

Black Tern brings me to 230 for the vice-county of Surrey. I'd like to hit 250 one day. It's only my second tick of the year (after Lesser Yellowlegs) and, unfortunately, I've done better for dips in 2021 (three in total, plus a suppressed Icterine Warbler).

In south-west Surrey terms it puts me on 189, following this amazing first week of September which has seen me bag three local lifers. Perhaps the magic 200 will fall in the next few years … 

Thursday 8th

No birding.

Friday 9th

Days of heavy rain meant the water levels were way up at Pudmore this morning. The Wood Sandpiper was still around (it's eighth day on site), though I can't expect it'll hang around much longer. Indeed I suspect a bird that turned up at Tice's Meadow later today was the Thursley individual. There was no sign of the Ruff (also seemingly relocated to Tice's), though 17 Teal included a tight flock of 12 I guessed to be passage birds. 

Wood Sandpiper.

Four Whinchats, three Yellow Wagtails, Sand Martin, Water Rail and Snipe were also noted. 

I then explored Hankley Common, a site I barely visit. A fire here in late July has given the landscape a Lord of the Rings feel. Six Wheatears foraged together on the burned ground, with other bits of note including Firecrest, Redstart, Willow Warbler, two Meadow Pipits and a flock of 10 Woodlarks.


I finished off at Frensham Great Pond, where the Black Tern was still present and continuing to favour the north-east corner.

Lots of hirundines had collected over Eashing Fields by mid-afternoon. Five Whinchats and four Meadow Pipits were in The Meadow and a few Skylarks were back in Top Field.

Saturday 10th

The first clear night for a few days meant it was relatively lively at Shackleford this morning in autumnal conditions. A light but consistent southerly passage of Meadow Pipits and hirundines was noted, while the highlight on the deck was a Reed Warbler – bizarrely my third record here. Two Wheatears and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Willow Warbler and Whinchat rounded off the migrant list.


A covey of nine Red-legged Partridges and a Little Owl were noted as well.

I met up with David late morning and we walked a birdy feeling Painshill Farm, noting two Whinchats, three Yellow Wagtails and a Wheatear, as well as two Yellowhammers.