Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 31 October 2022

Meek and mild

A freakishly mild period has brought October to a close, continuing the long, balmy year we're experiencing. Temperatures and conditions have at times been akin to late August – you can't help but feel slightly perturbed by T-shirt weather, pub gardens, regular butterfly sightings and a national Pallid Swift influx when November is round the corner ... Unsurprisingly the birding has been slow, with autumn feeling like it may not truly appear this year.

Black Redstart.

Saturday 22nd

An enjoyable morning walk amid splendid autumnal scenery at the Devil's Punch Bowl. My main target was Ring Ouzel and I eventually achieved this with a fleeting first-winter in rowans near the café. Annoyingly it flew west with Blackbird and Redwing amigos and wasn't seen again. 

Redwings were everywhere – at least 520 moved south-west and there was a similar number of grounded birds. More than 50 Fieldfares and some 25 Blackbirds – including a few continental types – made for a 'thrushy' morning indeed.

No fewer than nine finch species included a south-westerly push of 100 or more Chaffinches, but the highlight was three Hawfinches: two east over my Sugar Loaf Hill vis-mig watchpoint and another north-east over the café (by which point I was armed with a deserved Flat White).

Two Bramblings and a Lesser Redpoll were also logged, and other bits included six Marsh Tits, two Sparrowhawks and a Firecrest.

Sunday 23rd

A morning check of a few waterbodies was a washout, but with the rain easing off for a brief period I walked Shackleford. Peter had found two Black Redstarts here yesterday and both were still present, showing well by the hay barn – the exact same spot I had two on 29 March.

Black Redstarts.

It was otherwise quiet, though three Lesser Redpolls in a Goldfinch flock at Cuckoo Corner were my first at the Love Shack this year.

The sun was out by midday and an early afternoon stroll around Painshill Farm, Dunsfold, was pleasant, with two each of Yellowhammer and Raven, three Sparrowhawks (including a displaying male) and a calling Little Owl highlighting.

Monday 24th

No birding.

Tuesday 25th

A clear and still morning circuit of Frensham Little Pond was fairly quiet, although a flyover Yellowhammer was a surprise – it's a sad state of affairs that this former Frensham breeder is now notable here. I later found out from Shaun that it was in fact the first record since 2015 ... 

A drake Pochard and at least five noisy Water Rails were also noted, along with a calling Firecrest near the sluice.


Wednesday 26th

It was no surprise that Thursley was very quiet in this morning's mild, blustery southerly, so a Hawfinch over the tumulus was most unexpected – only the third site record since the Millennium. The last couple of weeks have been a bumper period for the species locally. A Greenfinch over Shrike Hill was notable as well.

Thursday 27th

No birding.

Friday 28th

I walked the river from Godalming to Unstead this morning, which was unseasonably mild. 57 species was a tidy innings, but quality levels were somewhat low: two female Teal, six Snipe and a Lesser Redpoll highlighted on the Lammas Lands, while Unstead Water Meadows held Skylark, Blackcap, Water Rail, Kingfisher, 40 Siskins and 12 Snipe.

I met up with Joe H afterwards and a breezy stroll around Shackleford was livened up by a female-type Black Redstart near the hay barn. The two from the weekend haven't been seen since Sunday (despite people looking) so you'd fancy this to be a new bird …

Black Redstart.

Two Peregrines – an adult and a juvenile, perhaps both females – had a bit of a scrap and afforded great views while doing so. Some 140 Goldfinches and three Stonechats were also seen.

Saturday 29th

It was another oddly mild morning at Winkworth Arboretum, which was was looking resplendent as it always does at this time of year. Some familiar species were on offer, including three Firecrests between the boat house and Badger's Bowl, a Kingfisher at Rowe's Flashe and a Marsh Tit pair – the male in full song, befitting the spring-like conditions – at Phillimore. Other bits included Lesser Redpoll and Mandarin.


A quick check of Snowdenham Mill Pond afterwards produced five Gadwall and a Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid.

Gadwall and Red-crested Pochard x Mallard.

Sunday 30th

No birding.

Monday 31st

No birding.

Friday, 21 October 2022

The never-ending summer

Without wanting to sound like I'm repeating myself, another fairly quiet 10 days has come to a close. It's become another westerly autumn – never ideal for the South-East patch-birder. Another theme of this autumn is how nice the weather has been; birding under warm, blue skies in shorts and t-shirt has been the norm for much of this October. That said, a few easterlies made it through in the last few days and vis-mig has finally kicked off as a result.

Peregrine in sunny conditions, typical of the last 10 days.

Wednesday 12th

Only the second Thursley Common Marsh Tit of the year, calling at Top Corner, was the highlight of a quiet walk this morning. Two Ravens were knocking about, a couple of Redwing flocks passed over and an impressive 500 or so Canada and Greylag Geese were in the Pudmore roost.

Reed Bunting and Canada Geese.

Another glorious day meant I was having lunch on the porch when, to my disbelief, a Great Crested Grebe flew over! A totally madcap sight to behold, there was no mistaking what it was and it goes down as my most unlikely garden record to date – and one of my craziest in the Eashing area as well.

Thursday 13th

No birding.

Friday 14th

A morning walk along the Wey was quiet, with a female Teal and six Stonechats at the Lammas Lands and a Firecrest in Milton Wood the best I could manage. A few small groups of Siskin were back at usual winter haunts along various stretches of the river too.

Male Stonechat.

Saturday 15th

No birding.

Sunday 16th

Milford and Witley Commons were very quiet this morning, with a flyover Lesser Redpoll the most notable observation. Singles of Dartford Warbler, Reed Bunting and Kestrel were also seen.

Monday 17th

It was warm and sunny when I took a late afternoon walk to Eashing Farm – not at all feeling like the second half of October. I was already leaving satisfied with a bumper flock of 46 Collared Doves, but was treated further thanks to awesome views of a male Peregrine as it unsuccessfully tried to take out one of the doves.

Peregrine and (29 of the 46) Collared Doves.

Only my 10th record in south-west Surrey this year, I wonder if the bird is the same as an individual I had three sightings of in the Eashing area during the first winter period? 

Tuesday 18th

No birding.

Wednesday 19th

Finally some proper easterlies and, with a big overnight departure of thrushes in the Low Countries, I was optimistic when I got to Thursley at first light. The following four hours were decent indeed – certainly in the context of the last few weeks – but were not vintage. The headline act was a south-westerly Redwing passage that totalled 1,060, with some large flocks involved. Among one smaller group was my first Ring Ouzel of the year, which bombed south over Shrike Hill.


Other vis-mig highlights included 42 Fieldfares (my first of the autumn), a handful of Song Thrushes, 100 or more Chaffinches, 15 Siskins, 10 Lesser Redpolls, six Skylarks, 25 Starlings, 400 Woodpigeons and a Brambling. Some 37 Cormorants moved east too, including flocks of 16 and 11 – potentially a new Thursley high count.


It was quiet on the deck, though six Teal and two each of Snipe and Water Rail were at Pudmore.

Two Bramblings were at Eashing Fields at lunchtime, rather unusually giving their yeck call.

Thursday 20th

A drizzly, murky morning smacked of water bodies so I did a local circuit. Six Pochard – two adult drakes, three females and a first-winter drake – were quite the surprise at Tuesley, where the two dodgy female Goldeneye were also about. A veritable wildfowl-fest for these parts ...

Five Pochard were at Enton too, presumably part of the flock back in the area for the winter. Duck numbers were otherwise low, however. I thought Frensham might deliver the big prize afterwards, but it was disappointingly quiet.


The rain had eased off by the time I was heading back, so I took the opportunity to do a vis-mig at Eashing Fields. It wasn't too bad, either, with 450 Redwings and 11 Fieldfares counted in less than an hour. Most were heading south-east, though there were birds moving in all directions. 

The highlight however was a surprise Hawfinch bounding low south, calling with frequency. I didn't think I'd see this species at all in my 1km this year, so to have two records in the space of a couple of weeks is fantastic (and shows how vis-mig can yield results anywhere).

It was sunny and warm again by late afternoon, when a walk around the Lammas Lands produced two Snipe, three Stonechats and a flyover Lesser Redpoll at Overgone Meadow.

Friday 21st

A slightly later start this morning, but a brilliant hour and a half of vis-mig from Eashing Fields produced a remarkable three 1km ticks – and a south-west Surrey year tick! The cloudy, breezy conditions with occasional squally showers meant thrush passage was detectable, and I tallied 1,450 Redwings by the end of the session. Fieldfare totalled 33, with a few smaller groups of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes also moving.

Redwings and Fieldfares.

At 09:20 I heard a Woodlark, and eventually picked the bird up as it headed low east. I managed a crappy recording. Peter had one at the 'A3 Fields' in 1999 and David K had a spate of records at Peper Harow in the early 2000s – as far as I can tell this is the first Eashing area Woodlark since.

Not long after, three Mute Swans flew north-west – another new species for my Eashing area list! This had become a classic watch, with other bits on the move including a single southbound Swallow, a light easterly passage of Goldfinches and two Bramblings south-west.

Mute Swans.

With particularly dark clouds rolling in from the south I was ready to head back. However, a quick scan to the north revealed a small skein of geese – and upon getting my bins on them it was clear they were Brent Geese. The group were tight and moving quickly, seemingly tracking the Wey west-south-west. 

Brent Geese.

What a mega sighting – wild geese on migration all the way from Russia, and I'd been lucky enough to see a tiny leg of their journey only a couple of hundred metres from my front door. This will surely be my best 1 km record of the year.

Patch birding and vis-mig are wonderful in their own rights but make a truly magical combination. I've been lucky to enjoy both in rejuvenated fashion since moving this year.


Tuesday, 11 October 2022


The first period of October has mirrored the latter half of September – incessant westerly winds and slow local birding as a result. Having booked the first week of the month off, my plans to be on Shetland or western Ireland broke down for various reasons, and I ended up having something of a staycation. Upon reflection, finding two south-west Surrey year ticks – including a locally mega Rock Pipit – was a good return. But this masks the fact most of my birding has been steady, with vis-mig continuing to stall as the spring-like conditions (that feel like they've been in place since March) roll on.

Male Stonechat among October colours.

Saturday 1st

A lively morning session at Shackleford this morning produced my best-ever species count here: 52. Perhaps the highlight was the site's first Yellowhammer of the year, with a mobile bird around the northern fields. Presumably this species is dispersing from breeding sites at the moment …

A flock of 14 Lapwings went over – incredibly and depressingly my first double-figure count in south-west Surrey this year. Migrants included 10 Redwings, two Wheatears and a Yellow Wagtail, while decent counts of Stonechat (11), Meadow Pipit (200) and Skylark (45) were achieved.

Wheatears and Lapwings.

Sunday 2nd

No birding.

Monday 3rd

An initially slow morning at Thursley eventually ramped up into a session peppered with quality, as the first proper vis-mig of the year took place. The main movers were Meadow Pipits, with passage really picking up after 08:30 and totalling as many as 300 birds.

Among them was a most unexpected Rock Pipit, calling with gusto as it powered south-west on its own. Thankfully I managed a low-quality recording – this is a monster rarity locally (two records I had at Tuesley last year were only the 10th and 11th for south-west Surrey!). A seriously incongruous bird for Thursley and a site first, though it later transpired that it was a big Rock Pipit day in southern England with plenty of inland sites scoring birds, often multiple individuals.

Not long after the excitement died down, two Bramblings buzzed south – my earliest-ever in Surrey and by several days too. Only my fifth local Crossbill of 2022 then headed west, before a group of eight Redwings went south-west. Exciting stuff, at least by the low vis-mig standards so far this autumn.

It was rather quiet on the deck, with a late Tree Pipit and five Snipe the only bits of note.

On the way home, I flushed a Yellowhammer from The Meadow at Eashing Fields – presumably the same bird as 30 September. It's encouraging that it's hung around.

A mid-afternoon walk along the Wey north of Godalming was quiet, though six Lapwings at Unstead Water Meadows were most welcome. This small group has been gradually picking up new birds since I first saw them here on 12 August.


Tuesday 4th

A quick look at Eashing Farm this morning produced another early Brambling, with a bird heading south.

Wednesday 5th

A Marsh Tit was in a mixed flock at a windy Eashing Fields late afternoon. This species breeds along the Wey little more than 1 km to the north (as the tit flies) but was still a nice surprise and new bird for me here. Eight Stonechats, three Reed Buntings and a Sparrowhawk were also noted.

Marsh Tit.

Thursday 6th

A beautiful but quiet morning, starting at the Devil's Punch Bowl where a Crossbill over Sugar Loaf Hill was the highlight. Some very light passage of Meadow Pipits, hirundines and Chaffinches was taking place high above, while 15 Redwings, two Marsh Tits and three Firecrests were on the deck.

Milford and Witley Commons were even quieter afterwards, although Raven and Skylark – both flying over the latter common – were of note.


A dusk walk around a scenic Thursley didn't produce much either, other than a late Whinchat, a Snipe and cracking views of a Noctule.

Friday 7th

Another day of breezy south-westerlies and thus little expectation, though it turned out OK. No fewer than three Yellowhammers were at Shackleford in the morning, including a pair roving around the stubble fields amid good numbers of Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Goldfinch. Presumably one of the birds was the same as on 1st. Hopefully they settle for the winter ...


The surprise of the session was a female Dartford Warbler that flushed out from a ditch. It was typically skulking thereafter. Only my second here, stumbling upon extralimital Dartfords is always enjoyable.

Dartford Warbler.

I checked a few waterbodies mid-morning and came up trumps at Frensham Great Pond: a moulting adult Little Gull. A favourite species of mine, the bird was eagerly picking prey of the water's surface, occasionally settling for short periods, and I enjoyed good – albeit distant – views. Pleasingly, several folk were able to connect with it during the day.

Little Gull.

Having failed to score a local Little Gull in 2021 this was an especially sweet find, and only my third in south-west Surrey, all of which have been at Frensham. While this week off may not have been as action-packed as it would have been on Shetland or similar, I can't turn my nose up at Rock Pipit and Little Gull discoveries, even if the birding has been slow.

Saturday 8th

No birding.

Sunday 9th

A bright, cold autumn morning, fit for a long walk around the Weald. I started at The Hurtwood where one of the first birds I noted was a Hawfinch, which was bounding over Holloways Heath. My second record here in the last two months, I wonder if this may be a reliable site for the species outside of the breeding season? 

A steady southerly push of Chaffinches (evidenced all morning) included a couple of Bramblings which dropped in. Otherwise it was steady, with a Firecrest heard at Great Copse and plenty of Jays noisily going about their October business.


I walked down to the farmland east of Hambledon, where a group of seven Stonechats were in a mixed cover crop at Little Burgate Farm, joined by a Reed Bunting. Another Stonechat was at Court Farm.

Back home later on, I was pottering about in the garden when, to my great surprise, I heard a Hawfinch. The bird was high above and heading north. Around here Hawfinch is seriously rare away from the Weald and I definitely didn't have it on my 1 km radar. In fact, following some research, this bird looks like the first Eashing area Hawfinch since 1952 and, beyond that, the mid-1800s (see below).

From the epic Letters of Rusticus, published in 1849.

Monday 10th

No birding.

Tuesday 11th

At the end of a glorious day I walked Eashing Fields, which was proving quiet until a surprise Little Owl started calling somewhere to the south-east 20 or so minutes after sunset.