Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Sites in south-west Surrey and map

Below is an interactive map of south-west Surrey, the area in which I do most of my birding. This region is defined by Surrey Bird Club; south of the A31 and west of the A281, within the county borders. Below the map is a bit of information about each site. At the end of my 2020 south-west Surrey 'big year', I reviewed some of the key sites (see here).

Bagmoor, Rodborough and Royal Commons

This trio of commons aren't known for being overly productive, though Rodborough has some nice wet woodland and Royal hosted a singing Wood Warbler in 2018. Poorly covered and thus merit more attention from birders.

Broadwater Lake

Sat next to the Wey, Broadwater is in a good position but is heavily disturbed, being popular with anglers, dog walkers and runners. Great Crested Grebes breed and the odd duck of note will drop in on quiet mornings, such as Pochard and Gadwall and, rarely, Goosander and Wigeon.

Churt Common / The Flashes

Part of the Thursley, Hankley and Frensham Commons Sites of Special Scientific Interest, this fairly poorly birded site has all the typical heathland species, while Axe Pond is sizeable enough to attract some waterbirds.

Compton and Loseley downs and farmland

The farmland from Loseley to Compton has held Grey Partridge and a Red-backed Shrike in not so distant years gone by, but nowadays Red Kite, Lapwing (winter only) and Skylark are most likely. Barn Owl can be found with great luck and, occasionally, Lesser Whitethroat, which is a rare bird in south-west Surrey. The North Downs up to Onslow used to be a superb site but intensive farming has degraded the habitat, though migrants such as Wheatear and Whinchat pass through. Raptors are possible, especially Hobby and Peregrine. Raven can be seen near Loseley House and Marsh Tit near Compton village.

Crooksbury Common

A splendid little heath, Crooksbury is perhaps the best site in Surrey for good views of both displaying Nightjar and Woodcock. Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Crossbill tend to be resident too, while decent migrants in the past few years have included multiple Pied Flycatcher. Spotted Flycatcher can usually be found in the summer with some ease. Every now and again, a flock of Brambling winters at the east end of the common, though this has been rare in recent years.

Cutt Mill Ponds and Puttenham Common

Cutt Mill Ponds are a popular spot with walkers and anglers. The Tarn is the largest and is owned by Farnham Angling Society. Great Crested Grebes are common; Red-necked Grebe took up residence for a week in November 2010. The House Pond, to the south, has a public footpath running along the east side – it is the best site in south-west Surrey (and one of the best in the county) for Goosander, with as many as 20 gathering here from early afternoon onward from early November to early March. The surrounding woodland is good for Firecrest and Marsh Tit and, with great luck, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Puttenham Common is open and normally holds Tree Pipits, Stonechats and Woodcock, but Yellowhammer has become extirpated.

Devil's Punch Bowl / Hindead Common

This beautiful area offers a lot of sky and can be good for raptors. Firecrest is abundant in the woods and this is perhaps the best site in Surrey for this species. Redstart and Cuckoo are regular in summer, though Wood Warbler – formerly an iconic species of this site – are no more. Crossbill and Brambling can be found in winter. In autumn, this site is better than most for Ring Ouzel, and is one of the most regular haunts for the species locally.

Dunsfold Aerodrome and farmland

Access isn't great around this area but some of the open fields and scrubby hedgerows hold some good birds, with Nightingale, Barn Owl and Lesser Whitethroat among the scarcer breeders. Yellowhammer is more common, along with Red-legged Partridge.

Enton Lakes

These fishing lakes are sadly private, being a Godalming Angling Society site. Typical wetland birds reside on the waters, with Common Sandpiper regular on passage. A small flock of Pochard and Tufted Duck winter. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers bred until recently. Osprey is an annual migrant and rarities have included Green-winged Teal (the fifth Surrey record).

Frensham Ponds and Common

Frensham Great and Little Pond have a long-running history of excellent birds, including Surrey megas such as Great Reed Warbler, Bluethroat and Ferruginous Duck. The ponds gets Black Tern practically annually on passage and a good duck or grebe can be expected in most years. Breeding species include Common Tern, Great Crested Grebe and a large colony of Reed Warblers. Migrant waders are less regular on the beaches these days due to disturbance. Firecrest and Marsh Tit can be found near the outlet pond with relative ease. The Great Pond holds decent numbers of wintering Pochard and Tufted Duck, often with a Goosander or two chucked in, and a large Black-headed Gull roost takes place. One or two Bitterns usually use the Little Pond in winter but are extremely elusive, usually seen at dawn or dusk; Spotted Flycatcher is present in summer. Frensham Common, between the two ponds, has typical Surrey heathland species and can attract wintering Great Grey Shrike.

Hankley Common

A vast, open heath, with great numbers of species such as Dartford Warbler and Nightjar. Occasionally gets wintering Great Grey Shrike. Popular with the general public and especially dog walkers.

Hydon's Ball

Hydon's Ball is a sandy hill, with Crossbills and Woodlarks occasionally present, though habitat degradation has made the latter rare here. Firecrests are rather common on the slopes, and roding Woodcock can be encountered in the summer. Nightjar, like Woodlark, has taken a hit due to the overgrown nature of the top. Another site that's popular with the public.

Lammas Lands

Catteshall and Overgone Meadows are rather disturbed, but still hold some good birds. Breeding species include Reed Bunting and Stonechat; many Snipe winter and usually a couple of Jack Snipe are among them. Water Rail and Little Egret can be found in the winter too. Extreme flooding has produced Water Pipit, but this species is more likely on passage. It is rare, though. Some new scrapes at Catteshall attracted Little Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher in 2020.

Low Weald Woodland and Farmland

This accounts for many sites over a big area (hence the lack of pins in the south of the map). However, with many species the same across these sites, it makes sense to group them. The woodlands are good for Nightingale, Marsh Tit, Spotted Flycatcher and Firecrest in summer. Hawfinch is presumed to be a very low density and elusive resident. Turtle Doves can be encountered with great luck, along with Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, but neither should be expected and are very rare. The farmland holds south-west Surrey's (perhaps even the entire county's) strongest population of Yellowhammers. Places to explore include Frillinghurst and Sidney Woods and the farmland east of Hambledon church.

Milford Common

This small and wooded common is the site of a major conservation success story, as Nightingale has been enticed back, having been extirpated in recent years. At least four males held territory in 2020. Stonechat also breeds, along with Woodcock.

Shackleford farmland

This wonderful, small area of farmland can be very good for birds. In winter, finch, thrush and Skylark flocks rove around and attract raptors, with Hen Harrier and Merlin recorded down the years. Lapwing often winter; Golden Plover is a scarce but more than annual visitor, usually flying over. In summer, the greatest population of Skylarks in the region breeds and the hedgerows hold healthy numbers of Whitethroat. Barn and Little Owls are very rarely seen residents. Chats, wagtails and Wheatears are regular on passage. The site has form for rarities, too, including Quail, Wryneck and Short-toed Lark. The wider area seems to be the only site in south-west Surrey where Ring-necked Parakeet is beginning to colonise.

Shalford Water Meadows

A good stretch of habitat between Broadford Bridge and Guildford holds dabbling ducks on the quieter pools, including Shoveler. A Garganey pair visited in 2017. Common and Jack Snipe are present, Barn Owl bred until recently and a good range of common warblers use the site; Grasshopper Warbler has turned up on passage in recent years too. A Spotted Crake was found in 2019.

Snowdenham Mill Pond

A small waterbody south of Bramley that is one of the best in the area for dabbling ducks, especially Mandarin and Gadwall. Red-crested Pochard is an occasional visitor too, and recent rarities include Goldeneye and White-fronted Goose.

The Hurtwood

Recently cleared forestry commission land has restored heathland habitat to this site, and impressively all the classic species can be encountered now, including Dartford Warbler and Nightjar. Spotted Flycatcher breeds.

Thorncombe Street

There is lots of information about Thorncombe Street elsewhere on this site. The high ground is good for visible migration with pipit and hirundine passage usually notable. The woodlands hold species like Marsh Tit, Firecrest and, in smaller numbers, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Spotted Flycatcher.

Thundry Meadows

A small Wildlife Trusts reserve with some nice alder woodland beside the Wey. Spotted Flycatcher can be encountered in the summer.

Thursley Common

A beautiful heathland, with a fantastic list of breeding birds and migrants to it's name. Dartford Warblers and Woodlark are resident, along with the conspicuous Stonechats. In the winter visits from a Hen Harrier, Great Grey Shrike or Merlin is not uncommon, though it's summer when Thursley is at it's best. Redstart, Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Cuckoo and Surrey's last breeding Curlew all nest, with Hobby's present from May to September. Pudmore is good for migrant waders and occasionally wildfowl. Migrant raptors pass through annually. There are few sites in Surrey where one has a higher chance of encountering something unusual, as demonstrated by recent records of Rustic and Little Buntings, Red-footed Falcon and Golden Oriole.

Tuesley Farm

This site used to hold a regular flock of Golden Plovers but has been heavily cultivated and is rather a poor site to bird now, with Yellowhammer and Skylark among the other losses. A private reservoir is productive but can't be accessed.

Unstead Sewage Farm

A site with one of the best list of birds in the county, particularly given it's small size. Sadly it's now in need of serious habitat management, with the former scrapes and flood meadows overgrown and dried out. Water Rail and Teal are still regular in winter, just about, along with the odd Common Snipe. Reed and Sedge Warbler still breed, too, and Chiffchaffs overwinter. Cetti's Warbler appears to be a new resident. The list of migrants and rarities is outstanding – Grey and Red-necked Phalaropes, Purple Heron and Red-rumped Swallow to name a few. Recent restoration work has improved the site and it may return to some level of former glory.

Unstead Water Meadows

The stretch between Catteshall and Unstead is rather more undisturbed than down river, but access is tricky. Still, Reed and Sedge Warblers breed, Water Rail probably does too and migrant passerines will follow the river. Flooding in winter can be productive and turn up dabbling ducks and geese; three White-fronted Geese spent a couple of weeks here in 2020.

Waverley Abbey

A tourist site, but Raven breeds and some ducks can be found on the lake, along with Little Egret.

Winkworth Arboretum

A rather busy National Trust site, but Water Rail can be found in winter and Firecrest in summer. Marsh Tit is resident. Rowe's Flashe has breeding Little Grebe and Tufted Duck.

Witley Common

The main common has been somewhat neglected, though a few Dartford Warblers persist and, oddly, Yellowhammers breed. The ARC reserve over the road is much better and indeed is a fine heathland site; Tree Pipit and Nightjar breed, along with Dartford Warblers and, in 2020, Siskin.

Wrecclesham Water Meadows

Not easy to access, but when this area floods it's the best in the region for Wigeon.