Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 24 July 2017

18th-24th July

Things continue to be pretty quiet on patch, though the sometimes notable northerly winds, rain and heavy cloud of late have created an autumnal feel, and with that should come some bird movement. This morning, certainly, this was evident via a mixed feeding flock of hirundines over Mill Pond, including at least 4 Sand Martins.
Sand Martin (above) & Swallow, Mill Pond, 24/7/2017

This species is very hard to catch up with here - it's only the second sighting of 2017, and 2 is roughly the annual average for records of these birds. Attempts to get a decent photo proved impossible (as you can see here), but nevertheless, they were by far my most prolonged and enjoyable views of Sand Martin on the patch.

Another sign of autumn is the post-breeding gatherings of corvids around Thorncombe Park, and during the last week some exceptional counts have been made. The numbers peaked on the 20th, when a site record 250+ Jackdaws were feeding on churned up ground within the estate. With them were at least 100 Rooks, 3 Ravens and an impressive 60+ Carrion Crows.

The warm weather during the early part of last week saw plenty of butterfly action, with Small Coppers and Common Blues notable by their numbers. The best record came on the 19th, when a Clouded Yellow was seen over Rowe's Flashe Meadow, at Winkworth. It's highly likely this species has been present on the patch before, but it's the first documented sighting.

Keeping away from birds, an intriguing mammalian record came via Matt P on the 18th, from just outside the recording area. A dead Polecat/Ferret was on the A281 just south of Palmer's Cross, and should it have been the former, it would keep in trend with the southern expansion of this species. There is certainly suitable habitat on the patch, and an eye will be firmly kept out in the future.

Elsewhere, I couldn't fight the urge to put one of my remaining 'tarts ticks' to bed yesterday afternoon, when news of a Great Shearwater sitting on the sea at Portland Bill broke. The bird was reported as showing well for a few hours, and despite the 5 hour round trip I couldn't resist, particularly given the fact this species is effectively impossible to twitch in the UK. Alas, I missed it by about 40 minutes, a brutal dip on a Sunday evening.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Weymouth, 23/7/2017
However, solace came via a supermarket in Weymouth, which provided not only a winning scratchcard but also 3 beautiful juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls in its car park. The individual in the photo took kindly to my offerings of bread, allowing a good look at the dark 'mask' on the white head, the heavy dark bill and straight (ish) pale edges to the tertial tips. In this bird the wear to the scapulars can be seen, and indeed there is a new lower scapular growing.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A new bird for Thorncombe Street

2017 has so far seen 4 new species added to the historic bird list for Thorncombe Street, and this week a 5th joined, in unusual circumstances. Most birders love a list, and I've spent much time scouring through old books and reports, making sure I haven't missed any records of birds in my recording area. My research has been pretty thorough, but there are several species which have had a cloud of uncertainty over their heads.
Just like 1944 - a Great Grey Shrike on wires

For example, old, Victorian records of some birds (Night-heron, Ferruginous Duck etc) are simply described as being shot at 'Bramley', which could or could not be in my area. There are a few ponds in the village north of my patch boundary, and so these birds simply can't be added. 

As time and record-keeping moved forward, locations got more specific, but there are a batch of records from the mid 1940's from 'Bramley' that are of two species that seem very suited to my area, or at least what my area would have been like back then. The species in question are Grasshopper Warbler and Red-backed Shrike, and having worked out their references in Jeff Wheatley's Birds of Surrey, it seemed I needed to get my hands on the old South Eastern Bird Reports, which ran before the Surrey Bird Club came into existence.

Another record has long intrigued. A Great Grey Shrike was reported from Palmer's Green, in 1944. Wheatley could never find anywhere in Surrey that bore that name, and concluded that the record probably referred to Palmer's Cross/Goose Green, which are two areas next to each other on my patch. The observer was behind the Bramley records at the time, and the name confusion was likely just a typo or mistake. However, the lack of 100% certainty meant it just couldn't be confirmed.

I've long wanted to read through these South Eastern Bird Reports, and this week, with the great help of Haslemere Musuem, I finally did. Sadly, I couldn't get any further with Red-backed Shrike or Grasshopper Warbler. The former came close though, with the note from the 1944 report stating 'this species was prevalent in the Bramley area'. It's almost certain they were around, but as there's no 100% confirmation, the species remains off the list.

Collared versus Turtle, 1944
Great Grey Shrike, though, was a different story. The 1944 South Eastern Bird report had the erroneous 'Palmer's Green' as the location for the record, which came in October. However, I managed to get my hands on a dusty pamphlet from 1953, The Birds, Butterflies and Flowers of the Godalming Area, which I had no idea existed, and there I found the jackpot. 

Under the Great Grey Shrike section, the words I'd been hoping to find were there - "One on wires at Palmer's Cross in October 1944". Finally, confirmation that this bird was indeed within my recording area. The Shrike brings the historic tally up to 148, and becomes another uber-blocker for me.

These old documents make fascinating reading, and are a great way to appreciate/scowl at the changes the countryside has gone through in less than 80 years. Just take a look at the picture to the right, and note the difference in Turtle and Collared Dove records compared to nowadays...

Monday, 17 July 2017

13th-17th July

It remains quiet on the patch, or at least during the early morning sessions I've been managing of late. A spring largely devoid of heavy rainfall has left parts of the area seeming somewhat arid and bird-less, and on fine days it can be very quiet. However, to me there's always something to make a visit here worthwhile, whether it be on a freezing January day or a scorching July one.

Spotted Flycatcher, Selhurst Common, Sandra Palme
Perhaps one of the more popular summer crowd-pullers (by crowd I mean more than 1 person coming to look) are the relatively abundant Spotted Flycatchers. They can be found in at least 5 locations in the south of the recording area, and the showy birds at Selhurst Common were captured nicely by visiting birder Sandra Palme recently. I've put her pictures of the Flycatchers, and also of the Thorncombe Park Little Owls, in the photos section - I'll get round to updating this page properly soon.

There's been a couple of discreet heads up towards the autumn - today a Willow Warbler was calling in the upper arboretum at Winkworth, and on the 14th a couple of Siskin flew over. A feeding mass of over 100 House Martins on the same day, one which I was able to spend a few hours of on the site, was a notable count for here. My hopes of securing an autumn wader were raised when Matt P reported a Whimbrel over his work, which is about 10 miles to the north-east of here, but unfortunately I didn't connect. Earlier in the day a 2nd-year male Kestrel, seemingly in an odd moult pattern, had me racking my brains for a while. This species looks to have declined here in the last few years, despite no obvious change to the habitat.
Mind-blowing photo of the Cliffe Marsh Sandpiper

Across the dates on Mill Pond, a second Tufted Duck pair have fledged young, and the Gadwall pair have been present on a couple of occasions. One of the Little Grebe juveniles has moulted quickly into winter plumage, and looks quite odd among the summer-dressed adults. However, my main waterbird action of late came on the evening of the 13th, when an after work twitch took me to Cliffe Pools in north Kent.

The target, which was seen at great distance, was a juvenile Marsh Sandpiper. I didn't connect with this species in Poland earlier in the year so was pleased to add it to my Western Palearctic list. Clearly from an early brood and very lost, the delicate and pale individual was sadly always very far away, as my rubbish phone-scoped effort shows. I was surprised, however, that the difference between this species and Greenshank could be told from such distance.

Also at this excellent site in the mouth of the Thames, a family party of Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Redshanks were the other waders noted. Both Sedge and Reed Warblers were in voice, a Barn Owl quartered the marsh and a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was kicking about.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

6th-12th July

Work has dictated time on patch recently, though this week I've got into a routine of an early sky-watch each morning. It's creeping towards the time of year when the thought of flyover waders justifies a 5 am alarm, but it's probably still too early (and definitely so for any other vis-mig), and this has been reflected in the results so far this week. Monday and Tuesday particularly were dead - today was much better, with the northerly wind certainly making it's presence felt after an afternoon and night of heavy rain.
Kingfisher at Mill Pond yesterday

After the pleasant weather of late, this inclement spell had the Swift and Hirundine feeding groups on the move. In an hour I had 78 Swifts and 14 House Martins all north-west, as well as 3 Herring and 1 Black-headed Gull in the same direction. It won't be too long until the Swifts are moving south in big numbers, and hopefully Gull numbers will continue to rise in the next few weeks. A Siskin over completed an enjoyable session, and pointed nicely towards autumn migration.

As mentioned, this is the time of year when Gulls begin to appear again on the patch, and the last week has seen both the aforementioned species, as well as a single Lesser Black-backed, over. At home the morning and evening commute of Gulls to and from the south London reservoirs has started up again, and it won't be long at all until the first juveniles are seen among the travelling birds.

Back on the patch, the best bird of the last 7 days was no doubt a Kingfisher that was present briefly at Mill Pond yesterday morning. Kingfishers are hard to pin down here, and this was only the 5th record of the year. Elsewhere, a further 2 Spotted Flycatcher territories have been found, bringing the number of sites up to 5.

Amur Falcon last Friday
Last Friday I managed to twitch the stunning Amur Falcon in Polgigga, Cornwall, with David C and Magnus A. The bird was found late the evening before, and we travelled down on no sleep in order to connect not long after dawn. Our decision turned out to be the right one - the bird departed at 11 that morning, and hasn't been seen since. The 1st-summer female, representing the first twitchable British bird and only the 15th Western Palearctic record, looked absolutely knackered while she slowly awoke to a crowd of at least 100 people.

I have wondered, what chance the bird is still about, keeping a low profile in a remote Cornish valley? She'd already managed to elude the earliest arriving twitchers, sitting under their noses for an hour before discovery...

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Operation Patch Wader

Having heard a Curlew fly over my flat at an ungodly hour earlier in the week, I began to think - my patch wader list is pathetic, even for an inland site with little water such as mine. During the past 3 years, of solid coverage I might add, I've managed just 5 species. Also, 2 of those 5 (Woodcock and Lapwing), whilst patch rares, are pretty regular locally.

Curlew over Allden's Hill in February this year
When Matt P worked and patched here in 2015 he managed more than 5 wader species in one year alone, including a terrible trio of grippage in the form of Common and Green Sandpipers, and Black-tailed Godwit (huge blocker!). I've had none of those birds, and they are the 3 waders on the historical list that remain off mine (not including the unidentified flock earlier this year). To put it into context Canons Farm, which is a lot smaller than my patch and totally devoid of water, has an astounding list of 13 waders, including such mouth-watering names as Dotterel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.

I upped my game this spring, giving Rowe's Flashe more attention than it deserved during the right times, but in truth none of the water bodies are actually attractive for wading birds, with a dearth of shorelines of any sort. I drew a spring wader blank until May 21st, when a rather late Curlew caught me by surprise, flying over Hive Field. However, despite this bird, and another in February, that's been it this year, aside from the Lapwings and Woodcocks of course.

So, I've set myself a goal, from now until the end of wader passage. With long-legged migration already on the go across the country, my aim is to find at least one wader on the patch before the winter is here. Any appropriate water will be checked thoroughly, along with the weather forecasts - flyovers are perhaps my best bet. That certainly seems to be the case at Canons, and my finest wader hour here came after light showers and a north-east wind in late July 2015 lowered 9 Whimbrel just enough to be seen from the Ridge. I'd be over the moon if something similar was to happen again.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

30th June-2nd July, Somerset and Devon

A family holiday in Exmouth allowed for some sporadic time in the field, particularly on the trip down, when a stop off at Collard Hill produced a butterfly lifer in the form of two Large Blues. The following day, on Dartmoor, butterflies were again the main focus. For the time of year the Exe Estuary had some OK birds, but more joy came from a couple of sea-watching sessions off Orcombe Point, with a change in wind direction on the Sunday afternoon proving the most productive.

Large Blue, Collard Hill, 30/6/2017

With most of the day free, we left early with a view to stop at a couple of sites in Somerset. First off was Collard Hill, near Glastonbury, famous for its reintroduced Large Blue butterflies. It was pretty cloudy, but we managed to see two individuals, and enjoyed wonderful views. 8 other species were noted, including my first Gatekeeper of the year. On the bird front, a Hobby and Raven passed overhead.

Next up was RSPB Ham Wall, a site I've long wanted to visit. Situated in the Somerset Levels, this excellent reserve was reminiscent of continental wetland habitat, with far reaching vistas and expansive reeds and channels. No less than 6 Heron/Egret/Bittern species breed, and we managed 5 of them, including flyover Cattle Egret and Bittern, as well as plenty of Great White Egrets. In total, a very impressive 57 species was clocked in a couple of hours. Notable was a rather late singing Cuckoo.

We stuck our heads in at Topsham, on the Exe estuary before, we arrived at the house, and watched a few Black-tailed Godwits among little else on the low tide.


An hour's sea-watch from the cliffs at Orcombe Point was quiet, with a few Gannets, a Fulmar and 2 Shags of note. Largely, however, I dreamed about the Red-footed Booby on the other side of the water in France.

Distant Slavonian Grebe, Cockwood, 1/7/2017
With the forecast warm and sunny, the destination was Aish Tor, Dartmoor, where butterflies were the target. The hoped for High Brown Fritillary wasn't conclusively pinned down - most species, in particular Fritillaries, were extremely active and the diagnostic underwing on a few candidate individuals wasn't observed. However, plenty of Dark Green Fritillaries were seen, as well as smaller numbers of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. 10 species were clocked up in total, and other good bits included Green Hairstreaks and Graylings.

A dapper summer plumage Slavonian Grebe was the highlight of a brief visit to Cockwood, on the west side of the Exe estuary, with a few Little Egrets also here.


Another early sea-watch yielded little, with the winds unfavourable, but with them swinging around to a south-westerly, it was back to Orcombe at 14:45. The first hour was quiet, but not long after the wind speed picked up, and a group of at least 5 Manx Shearwaters flew east. 6 minutes later, 2 dusky brown Balearic Shearwaters moved west slightly further out, and with that my patience was rewarded. This species, one of my favourites, can be found in the English Channel and bay of Biscay from July for several weeks onwards, as post-breeding feeding parties move around. At 16:19 two more Manxies flew east, with things tailing off thereafter.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

24th-28th June

Still relatively quiet on patch over the weekend and into this week, though a standout moment came late on Saturday (and again on the 26th), and a very pleasing number of Butterflies were recorded on Monday. The weather has been pretty mixed, with some recent heavy showers and windy spells, contrasting with the largely fine and sunny conditions on Monday.

White Admiral, Winkworth, 26th June
Saturday 24th

I awoke to news of a Red-backed Shrike at Thursley Common, and dragged my hungover self there at around 10:00, about an hour after it had been reported. Whilst having seen this species several times before, and not being a county lister, the idea of a short trip to watch my first Surrey Red-backed Shrike appealed. I teamed up with Rich S and Rich H, who'd arrived at a similar time, but it soon became apparent this bird wasn't going to be easy. 

Indeed, over the course of the next hour or so, we and several others managed to locate the finder, but not the bird. In fact, it wasn't seen again after the initial sighting, but classic Thursley specials like Dartford Warblers, Tree Pipits, Woodlark and a Hobby kept things interesting.

A flash through the patch afterwards revealed little, but an after-dark drive later on proved very productive. Several Tawny Owls were heard (including begging juveniles at 2 different sites), but the pièce de résistance was a beautiful Barn Owl, which flew over the road just south of Nadia's Hill. As I mentioned recently, there's been speculation from one of the gamekeepers that a pair has taken up residence at Combe Farm, not that far north from where this bird occurred. 

It's impossible to say if this was one of the alleged pair, and it's definitely true that Barn Owls are grossly unrecorded here. Whilst there isn't masses of good habitat, my return of 3 birds in the last 3 years (including this one) is dismal at best, and I will try and pin down this rumoured pair. At Selhurst Common, a striking female Common Glow-worm capped off a very enjoyable trip.

Sunday 25th

Very little of note during a quick patch visit. 30+ Mandarin on Mill Pond continue the recent large numbers here, and a Kestrel next to the A281 is significant for being one of so few seen this summer - this species has certainly declined here.

Marbled White, New Barn, 26th June
Monday 26th

This was a patch Butterfly day, and a good tally of 16 species were recorded in the sunshine. Highlights included White Admirals, Purple Hairstreaks and Silver-washed Fritillaries at Winkworth, and both Large, Essex and Small Skippers, Small Tortoiseshells and a good number of Marbled Whites at Hive Field/New Barn. Meadow Browns were everywhere, and Commas, Red Admirals, Speckled Woods, Small CoppersRinglets and Large, Small and Green-veined Whites completed the days list.

Later in the day, a brief visit to the Hambledon farmland yielded a male Yellowhammer seemingly taking food to a nest in a hedgerow, and still lots of Woodpigeons.

An evening Owl search on patch proved successful - 3 different species were recorded, including a couple of new sites with calling juvenile Tawny's and, best of all, another Barn Owl over the road. This second sighting in 3 days was not far from the Saturday bird, further south on the road towards Scotsland Farm. It now does seem likely a pair is established somewhere locally.

Tuesday 27th

A brief early morning drive through produced nothing of note.

Wednesday 28th

Another early and quick trip, with a similar list of birds. 15 Tufted Ducks on Mill Pond was a notable count, and the female and her brood of 9 were present. Interestingly it seems a female Mallard, who recently lost her only 2 ducklings, has taken it upon herself to assist the mothering of the Tufted Duck youngsters.

Friday, 23 June 2017

23rd June

There was quite a spectacle across the patch today with at least 500 Swifts filling the skies, a total that smashed the previous record of 100, which came at Winkworth on 27th July 2015. One feeding flock alone at New Barn consisted of 250+ individuals, and birds were seen pretty much everywhere throughout the rest of the site.

Swifts aren't actually very numerous here - there's no suitable breeding habitat, so normally the only big counts are made at passage times (e.g 100+ S on 27/7/2015, 33 NE on 5/5/2017). The birds today didn't seem to be moving. There was perhaps a slight westerly leaning, but I actually feel these were mass feeding flocks. I'm not sure why today was reason for such behaviour (weather wasn't that bad), but adults will travel big distances to collect food for their young when needs must, and given the Godalming/Farncombe/Bramley suburbia seem to have become Swift ghost towns today, my conclusion is thus.

Saying this, 2,000 moved south through Spurn yesterday, and 50 flew over Clandon today, so perhaps it was failed breeders linking up and slowly making an early exit from the UK? Who knows, but either way, it was quite a spectacle, and I wonder if I'll ever get such a count again here.

The Swift numbers were probably the highlight for David C and I today, as a 5+ hour session yielded little else of note, among 53 species. One of the Selhurst Common Spotted Flycatcher pairs showed well, but both the Little Owls and Ravens got stage fright the day the ultimate patch mega, another birder, was present.

Before he arrived I'd clocked a Common Tern at Bramley Park Lake, and 3 Gadwall and a Shoveler on Mill Pond, but unfortunately David only connected with the latter. Another pleasing sighting was that of a Skylark landing in suitable nesting habitat at Tilsey Farm. This species hasn't been proven to breed here since 2007, so fingers are crossed.

Generally though, it was quiet. Birdsong is dropping off, raptors and partridges are laying low, and Butterflies are often the more interesting things to look at. Oh what I'd do to have a marsh of some sort here...

Thursday, 22 June 2017

14th-22nd June

I've had less time on patch recently, often either a pretty brief early morning or late evening session. The general trend is one of quiet summer, and the heatwave this week has meant most of the hay fields in the south have been cut early, ending the optimistic Quail dream of recent weeks. With a very warm (31 celsius) Summer Solstice yesterday, my mind has tentatively begun to think towards return migration, and the last few July's here have produced some very good stuff.
Spotted Flycatcher, Selhurst Common, 14/6/2017

As mentioned, it's been quiet, and perhaps the best bird of the last 9 days was a Common Tern over Bramley Park Lake on the 15th, the 5th record this year. Given the Tuesley Farm birds spend their days fishing at Enton or Marsh Farm, the nest site of my birds is completely unknown.

Another notable record recently is the appearance of 1 (at least) female Red-crested Pochard x Mallard hybrid, present on Bramley Park Lake on a couple of dates, including today. Presumably, Florence has hooked up with a Mallard, not totally surprising given her fondness for hanging around with this species. The hybrid is told by its more rusty plumage, and a stripe in the crown. Florence is still about, and was seen with a drake Mallard on Mill Pond on the 20th.

Sticking with ducks, a staggering roost count of 96 Mandarins was made at Mill Pond on the 18th, unsurprisingly a site record. Females seem to be using the safe and predator-proof pond as a post-breeding creche for their young, and many eclipse males have also pitched up, explaining the high count. 76 were present on the 19th, and the number has slowly dropped down since.

Gadwall, Mill Pond, 14/6/2017
Another extremely out of season Shoveler was present on the 20th, Gadwalls have been about on and off, and the first Tufted Duck young of the year were seen on the 19th, a pair looking after 9 ducklings. Today 4 Little Grebes, including 1 chick, were on the water.

A late night listen for Tawny Owls on the 16th produced 6 birds. A rare sight on the 21st was one seen in the day, flushed from its roost in Ridings Brook. The Wintershall gamekeeper has, somewhat remarkably, reported a pair of Barn Owls at Combe Farm. I'll investigate in the coming days, and it would represent a fine record if proven.

With things quiet on patch, I've taken the opportunity, on a couple of dates, to check out the state of the farmland birds around the Hambledon area. This completely un-watched neck of the woods has great potential, but I have (so far) failed in my attempts to locate any Quails, Lesser Whitethroats or Turtle Doves, despite perfect looking habitat. I was confident of finding the latter species when I stumbled across a feeding flock of about 400 Woodpigeons at Burgate Farm, but I failed to make out even a Stock Dove among the frenzy.
Little Owl, Thorncombe Park, 21/6/2017

Despite not finding any Lessers, plenty of Common Whitethroats seem to be kicking about here, along with Skylarks, Red-legged Partridges and, in the wooded areas, Spotted Flycatchers. Most pleasing, however, is the number of Yellowhammers. On Tuesday I had at least 3 singing males, including 2 at Burgate.

A few years ago, I chose to patch Thorncombe Street over this area. I wonder what I would have found if I had spent the same amount of time scouring the seemingly endless fields? There's so much land in Surrey that gets no attention from birders - I'm sure thing like Turtle Doves, Quails and Corn Buntings are out there, somewhere...

Thursday, 15 June 2017

2016 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report

The 2016 Thorncombe Street Area Bird Report is now available.

Please visit this link for details.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

13th June

There were several notable sightings today, over the course of 2 sessions on patch. Again, ducks took centre stage, with 2 female Red-crested Pochards on Bramley Park Lake in the afternoon. The relative cover of the north shore allowed for some fairly close views, as well as this footage, as the birds fed quietly in the vegetated fringes, before flying to the south side of the lake. Their origin remains a mystery, but as time goes on I'm beginning to wonder if there was/is an ornamental pair on a private pond somewhere around here, and these perhaps are free winged young. On Mill Pond, a very high count of 32 Mandarins was made, mostly drakes either in eclipse plumage or moulting.

Spotted Flycatcher being pretty unspotted but catching flies
at Selhurst Common today
Bramley Park Lake was the more exciting water body today, with a Kingfisher also present this afternoon. Surprisingly, this is only the 4th record this year. A Cormorant was fishing, and there was one at Winkworth too, where a Marsh Tit was also knocking about. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came at Bonhurst Farm, in the shape (or sound) of a singing Reed Bunting. Remarkable not primarily for being out of season, but because this species has never been recorded here anywhere but the Ridge (wintering flock) or Winkworth (occasional outside the summer).

It seems there are in fact 2 pairs of Spotted Flycatchers nesting in ivy-clad walls at Selhurst Common. The site occupied last year was seeing a lot of action today, with food constantly being taken in, all whilst another pair were busy over the road. As things stand, there are at least 4 pairs across the site, but likely more.

Monday, 12 June 2017

9th-12th June

Since Bulgaria, I’ve managed just a handful of brief visits to the patch. Despite being June, ducks have taken much of the limelight, with Florence the Red-crested Pochard present again on Mill Pond on Friday, along with the eclipse drake Gadwall. A bigger surprise today came via a male Shoveler at the same site - a very out of season record, with no previous sightings of this species in the period from March until late August! Presumably, this bird was a failed breeder, and likely a second-year individual.
Florence at Mill Pond, 9/6/2017.

The highlight of the past few days, however, was the finding of a family party of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, which included 2 seemingly very recently fledged birds. The group was feeding silently, high up in the canopy, and only a vocal Great Spotted Woodpecker nearby brought them to my attention. It’s pretty certain this was the pair noted from February to April, and I’m delighted they were successful, particularly given how ridiculously elusive they became during the last couple of months. Unfortunately, despite extensive efforts by both myself and Gerry H, the actual nest was never found, and at one stage it was feared the birds had abandoned. Coupled with the steep decline of this bird nationally, it comes as a very pleasing record, and I can only hope the success is repeated in 2018.

Spotted Flycatchers have been somewhat slow coming in this year, but most pairs are now back on territory. The Selhurst Common birds have moved from the ivy-clad wall of one house to another, (showing well today), and the Phillimore site is occupied again. Elsewhere, it was very quiet, with the feeling of a sleepy summer day. Indeed, if anything, the Shoveler record points towards the arrival of autumn, and in a few weeks certain species will begin to move south. July has seen a few good bits before, including a Marsh Harrier and a flock of Whimbrel in 2015.

On Saturday, Matt P and I indulged in a thoroughly enjoyable twitch of the Elegant Tern at Pagham Harbour. Positioned on Hayling Island in the morning, we were quick to act when news broke of the birds reappearance at Church Norton, and we ended up enjoying pretty good views of the individual previously ringed at Banc d’Arguin, France (a site I visited last summer).

Red-footed Falcon, Frensham Common, 10/6/2017
Before we set off for the south coast we’d managed to squeeze in a look at the mighty-fine 1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon at Frensham Common, which somewhat surprisingly represented the first twitchable Surrey record of this species, after brief birds at Ranmore Common, Unstead Sewage Farm and Winterfold in the past 25 or so years. The individual was the latest off the Shaun P conveyer belt of excellent finds, with the long-staying Long-tailed Duck causing Surrey listers to twitch this far south-western part of the county only a few months back. The bird was his 203rd at Frensham, out of a historical total of around 230 (I can’t remember the exact figure he told me!).

The bird drew a big crowd, and continues to do so up until today at least, when it was present for its 3rd day. No doubt my Rosefinch at the start of the month would have brought people to Thorncombe Street – the all too fleeting nature of that bird still grates, and probably will do so for some time, or until I can avenge it with a find that sticks.

Friday, 9 June 2017

5th-9th June

Whilst not a Western Palearctic list-building trip, a few days spent in central Bulgaria proved fairly productive and certainly very enjoyable from a birding perspective. I was pleased to get two lifers, in the shape of Syrian Woodpecker and Sombre Tit, and there was a supporting cast of decent eastern bits, such as Black-headed Buntings, Barred Warblers, Isabelline Wheatears and Lesser Grey Shrikes. Throw in plentiful numbers of farmland species seemingly in rapid decline in the west, and a very respectable list of 81 birds was attained.
Lesser Grey Shrike, Sokolitsa, 7/6/2017

We stayed in the proud town of Kalofer, at the foot of Mount Botev, and birds around the town and hotel included Golden Orioles, Nightingales and, best of all, a couple of Syrian Woodpeckers. The focal point of the trip was to climb Botev, 2,476 metres tall and the highest mountain in the Central Balkan range. This was achieved (extremely tough!), and birds in the treeline and adjacent scrubby plateaus included Sombre Tits and Barred Warblers, as well as large numbers of Red-backed Shrikes, Wood Warblers, Hawfinches, Woodlarks and Rock Buntings.
There was only a small amount of time for birding, but a couple of hours in the scrubland and farms surrounding the village of Sokolitsa was excellent, not just for the quality of the species but also the densities. Tree Sparrows, Corn Buntings, feldegg Yellow Wagtails, Red-backed Shrikes, Hoopoes and both Calandra and Crested Larks were numerous, with Quails audible and a couple of Black Storks overhead. The grassy plains to the west of the village held a large number of Isabelline Wheatears, including recently fledged young, as well as European Ground Squirrels. A pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes showed well in the hedgerow at the south of the village, and a couple of Black-headed Buntings were surprisingly elusive in the crop fields to the east. Presumably, singing had largely ceased for this species by now.

Black-headed Bunting, Sokolitsa, 7/6/2017
With the great help of Dimiter from Neophron Tours, we were given gen for an Eastern Imperial Eagle site. Unfortunately, limited time and a lack of ‘scope put pay to the chances of finding this would-be lifer, but a sub-adult Golden Eagle here was some compensation. During the course of the other days, a few farmland areas were checked out, most of them bursting with the commoner of the aforementioned species as well as Turtles Doves and Grey Partridges.

This part of the world is obviously one of the economically less-off in Europe, but the people were very friendly, and tolerant of our limited/largely non-existent Bulgarian. As for the prices, a pint cost around 70p, a coffee 65p and most meals (2 courses) were around £5. The hotel cost £11 a night, each. With the quality of the birding inland this good, I’m sure the Black Sea is as good as its reputation suggests, and I’ll definitely be back to check it out one day.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

4th June

Pallas's Sandgrouse, Alpine Accentor, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Rose-coloured Starling, Great Reed Warbler, Green-winged Teal, 19 raptors (including 3 Eagle species), 4 Auks and all 5 European Rails/Crakes...
Spotted Crake, Unstead, September 2010 (KG)

No, not a productive sky-watch from the Ridge, but a selection of some of the more mouth-watering of the 255 species that have been recorded in the Godalming area. Area definition? A 3.5 kilometre radius of the town centre, which incorporates a surprising mosaic of different habitats and well-watched patches. Assembled largely for fun, I was thinking the list would hit 200, but never expected the figure to be quite so high. I reckon there are 3 main factors behind the big tally, which are explained below.

1. There's a big variety of habitats in the 3.5 km circle. You have heathland, woods and copses at different elevations, big lakes, a river and adjacent meadows, marshland and pools, farmland etc. None of the sites are particularly premier, but the area does seem to be a microcosm of the wider county. Think Witley Common as a poor mans Thursley, Enton Lakes the little brother of Frensham, and Unstead a tiny slither of Beddington, for example.

2. The coverage during the last few decades (arguably the last half-century) has been very high. Chiefly, this is down to two stalwarts, Brian Milton at Unstead and Eric Soden in the Milford/Enton/Tuesley area. These two sites have turned up pretty much all the modern-day rares, and a lot of them have been found by the two aforementioned gentlemen. 

3. A lot of people shot/killed stuff in the Godalming area pre-1900. This accounts for a fair few of the more exotic records (such as the Sandgrouse, Accentor and two of the Eagles), and it certainly seems birds 'collected' in the Godalming area back in the day is much better documented than other parts of the county.

The famous Hydestile Red-footed Falcon (& friend), seen
twice at Unstead after its release at Thursley in 1998 (DMH)
Unfortunately, there's a bit of an elephant in the room in regard to the list, and that's Unstead and the Surrey Bird Club rarity committee's non-existent relationship. It's a long story (that began with a Sabine's Gull in July 2000) but, in short, for the last 17 years Unstead records simply never got submitted. This means a number of birds that only feature on the Godalming list because of one-time records from Unstead have a certain awkward feel about them - Long-tailed Skua, Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite and Icterine Warbler are some examples.

Anyway, back to the patch and today, when a brief visit yielded no additions the Godalming area list. Indeed it was quiet - a 'sweeo-ing' Chiffchaff was taking food to a nest at Junction Field, the drake (though currently looking like a female) Gadwall at Mill Pond was present and a Garden Warbler was heard. Highlights as follows:


Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 3 Mandarins (♂♀♀ + 3 ducklings), 1 Grey Heron, 5 Tufted Ducks (♂♂♂♀♀), 2 Mute Swans and 1 Blackcap.

Thorncombe Street: 2 Red-legged Partridges, 3 Swallows, 1 Buzzard and 1 Blackcap.

Junction Field: 1 Garden Warbler, 7 Swifts, 6 House Martins, 2 Buzzards, 5 Chiffchaffs and 4 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 15+ House Martins, 2 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

3rd June

A pretty diverse and surprising cast of birds in a split day today. The notable westerly, certainly at elevation, was mixing things up a bit and loads of House Martins and Swifts looked to be moving through, pretty late in the season. I'm not sure which was more surprising out of the reappearance of the extremely elusive (and now seemingly resident) female Red-crested Pochard on Mill Pond this morning, or the 3rd-summer Lesser Black-backed Gull that became the first June record when it flew west over Junction Field. Highlights as follows:

07:45-08:30; 14:30-16:20

Mill Pond: Red-crested Pochard (♀, E side c.07:50), 1 Gadwall ♂, 3 Tufted Ducks (♂♂♀), 11 Mandarins (9 ♂), 1 Grey Heron and 2 Mute Swans.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 1 Grey Wagtail, 7 Swallows and 2 Red-legged Partridges

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Whitethroat, 20+ House Martins, 4 Linnets, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Junction Field (15:05-15:50): 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd-summer W c.15:15), 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 40+ Swifts, 20+ House Martins, 10+ Swallows, 7 Linnets, 10+ Buzzards, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Friday, 2 June 2017

2nd June

Just the morning on patch, mainly an unsuccessful second search for the Rosefinch. In the process 3 Little Owls were noted, suggesting both pairs are now feeding young, 2 Egyptian Geese were at Wintershall, the Gadwall pair remained on Mill Pond and the first Pied Wagtail young of the year were at Bonhurst Farm. Highlights as follows:

07:35-08:40; 09:45-11:00

Mill Pond: 2 Gadwall (♂♀), 2 Mute Swans, 4 Mandarins (♂♀♀♀ + 7 ducklings) and 1 Grey Heron.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 4 Mandarins (♂♀♀♀ + 5 ducklings), 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Thorncombe Street-Lea Farm: 2 Egyptian Geese, 2 Little Owls (Thorncombe Park and Gatestreet Farm), 7 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Swallows, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Little Owl, 2 Red-legged Partridges,  4 Linnets, 15+ House Martins, 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

1st June

A day I certainly wouldn't have predicted when I woke up this morning. Having done the usual rounds at Mill Pond and Winkworth, and parked near Lea Farm ahead of a planned Junction Field sky-watch, my attention was drawn to an odd mixture of calls coming from the field to the east, and it seemed a flock of 5 birds had recently alighted on the wires. A quick scan revealed 4 Linnets, and a pallid and larger bird that seemed almost Corn Bunting-like, with its back to me.
Common Rosefinch at Lea Farm

I got the scope on it, but with the light poor I headed down the track to another gate further along the field. Here, from a better angle, the possibility of a female/1st-summer male Common Rosefinch entered my mind. The initial and obvious features that stood out against the Linnets were the chunkiness of the birds neck and bill (recalling Trumpeter Finch), the very pallid and cold tones to the plumage, and a long tail. Thankfully the birds were staying still, and I scanned along the Linnets to see if my mind was playing tricks with me - it wasn't, and this bird was standing out.

Thankfully I had a few field guides in the car, and after manically thumbing through a couple the reality began to increase. Making mental notes, I got back on the bird and observed two pretty distinct pale wing-bars, at which point things got a bit frantic. My girlfriend was on the bird with the camera, and taking some shots, sadly none of which came out too well. The light didn't help, and the photo here doesn't tell much, bar the thick neck and bill, and pale plumage (obviously super-enhanced by the light!). Subtle streaks on the underparts were noted, mainly concentrated around the breast, and the heaviness was reiterated (I even re-scanned all birds to see if it was an adult Linnet among recently fledged young!).

A tractor then spooked the birds, and they all took off to the west. At this point I was able to pick out the almost Brambling-esque buzz twice, among the Linnet chatter, and became almost certain that I heard that same call as the group came in earlier. My experience with this species is fairly limited, having seen them in Estonia in 2007 and Poland earlier this year, but the guide-to-bird usage and hearing that call are what nailed it for me - I couldn't have been certain without them.

Egyptian Goose at Gatestreet Farm
I quickly phoned a couple of birding mates, and given the flock hadn't looked to have moved far, set off on a mission to re-find it. Sadly, 6 hours exhausting hours later, and having covered some serious ground, I didn't even have a sniff of the flock. The search really was akin to a needle in a haystack job - Linnets move about seemingly endlessly, and as I post this I am heading back out to visit the field again. It's a shame to say the madness of such a bird has been tempered a bit by not re-finding it, for others to enjoy, but you can't have it all!

Elsewhere today, a roosting Barn Owl at Bonhurst (the place I scoured most for the Rosefinch), was a very pleasant surprise, and my first of the year. Also, a Herring Gull flew NW, 2 Gadwall on Mill Pond became the first June record, and 2 Egyptian Geese were at Gatestreet Farm. Full highlights as follows:

07:40-08:30; 09:25-16:05

Mill Pond: 2 Gadwalls (♂♀), 2 Mute Swans, 3 Tufted Ducks (♂♂♀) and 1 Blackcap.

Winkworth Arboretum: 2 Little Grebes, 2 Mandarin Ducks (♀♀ + 7 ducklings), 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Gatestreet Farm: 2 Egyptian Geese, 1 Little Owl, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Linnets, 7 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Lea Farm: 1 COMMON ROSEFINCH (♀/ 1st-summer ♂ on wires, 09:43-09:52), 4 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Barn Owl (roosting in Oak by stables), 1 Little Owl, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 1 Kestrel (♀), 5 Linnets, 2 Buzzards, 15+ House Martins, 6 Swallows, 1 Chiffchaff and 3 Blackcaps.

Junction Field: 1 Herring Gull (NE at 11:55), 1 Whitethroat, 4 Buzzards, 4 Swallows, 3 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaff.

The Ridge: 2 Red-legged Partridges, 5 Buzzards, 2 Blackcaps and 3 Swallows.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

28th-31st May

Another muggy day, with few periods of sunshine. Pretty quiet, lots of warbler song and more young birds appearing being the main source of interest, with spring migration very much reaching its end. May has been decent, with a 82 species recorded in total, not including a very interesting sighting today.
Little Owl this morning

In a lengthy vigil from Junction Field, the lack of movement was clear, but at 13:12 my attention was drawn to a chirpy trill to the south. The call didn't click straight away, and was reminiscent of Redpoll, but after several seconds I was strongly reminded of Tree Sparrow. There was a total of 3 small, finch/sparrow/bunting shaped birds, and I noted only brown upperparts before losing them in the distance towards Blackheath.

Such a record could, at best, be considered extremely unlikely, but I have really struggled to make the call anything other than Tree Sparrow. I would have picked out Redpoll - a moderately numerous winter visitor - and it would be a lot more feasible to have this species passing over at the end of May than Tree Sparrow. For what it's worth, the birds sounded just like this and this. As far as I know there are no healthy populations in Surrey, Sussex or Hampshire, with the Dungeness birds the closest (may be wrong).

The likeliness would be higher if it was the height of migration, but even so this species doesn't move too much, even though (historically) Surrey-ringed birds have been found over 100km away. I will tussle with it more, but realistically I can't be sure they were Tree Sparrows. If I was at Beddington a couple of years ago, or in Poland a few weeks back I'd have no doubt. If anyone reading this has any suggestions, please let me know!

Elsewhere, as mentioned, there was little of note. Mandarin breeding has been very successful this year, and today there were 17 ducklings from 5 broods across the site. The Little Owl pair are very prominent at present, seemingly with hungry young to feed, and there were good numbers of both Whitethroats and Garden Warblers. Highlights as follows, and below that a quick summary of the 28th-30th:

07:40-09:10; 10:20-14:00

Mill Pond: 3 Mandarins (♂♀♀ + 10 ducklings), 2 Grey Herons and 2 Mute Swans.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 1 Grey Wagtail, 4 Red-legged Partridges, 12 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Greylag Goose, 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 4 Mandarins (♂♀♀♀ + 7 ducklings), 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Grebe (+ 1 chick), 1 Grey Wagtail, 2 Chiffchaffs and 5 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 12 House Martins, 2 Linnets, 8 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Great Brook to New Barn loop: 3 Garden Warblers, 4 Whitethroats, 1 Skylark, 1 Marsh Tit, 1 Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 1 Linnet, 2 Chiffchaffs and 6 Blackcaps.

Junction Field (10:55-13:50): 1 Herring Gull (NE at 12:14), 1 Whitethroat, 1 Red-legged Partridge, 2 Linnets, 14 Buzzards, 1 Kestrel (♂), 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff. 

30th: a Common Tern was again over Bramley Park Lake, with local breeding now suspected. A Spotted Flycatcher was at Selhurst Common, and a Marsh Tit was at Winkworth, along with a family party of 4 Ravens.

29th: 3 Gadwall (2 drakes) were on Mill Pond.

28th: a Common Tern was at Bramley Park Lake, and a pair of Gadwall were on Mill Pond.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

27th May

A wayward forecast today, with cloud and a fair south-west wind instead of morning showers and afternoon sunshine. Most of the time on patch was a sky-watch from Junction Field with Matt. Late Swifts and House Martins were coming through on the breeze, and presumably the same Cormorant was noted circling before heading east, twice. Probably only a few days for any late spring migrants to come in, but you never know. Highlights as follows:

09:15-09:45; 10:40-13:15

Mill Pond: 2 Mute Swans and 1 Tufted Duck (♂).

Gatestreet Farm: 21 Greylag Geese, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 1 Blackcap and 1 Chiffchaff.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Kestrel (♀) and 12+ House Martins.

Junction Field (10:50-12:30): 1 Whitethroat, 1 Cormorant (E 11:53 & E 12:11), 7 Swifts N/E, 10 Swallows, 11 House Martins, 9 Buzzards, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Allden's Hill: 2 Swifts NE, 1 Kestrel (♂), 3 Greylag Geese, 7 House Martins and 3 Swallows.

Friday, 26 May 2017

26th May

Very warm and a virtually cloudless sky, with temperatures reaching 25 celsius. There was however a pleasant south-east wind, which made for a comfortable sky-watch, the highlights from which included the latest Black-headed Gulls ever recorded on patch. This species is very rare between April and September, and the latest previous record (also the only beyond April) was on 1st May 2016. The journey of the 3 adults drifting very high south at 11:42 intrigues. There was also a flock of 7 Herring Gulls west, a couple of flyover Cormorants and good numbers of raptors.

Elsewhere, the Gadwall pair were on Mill Pond, and, in London bus style, the second confirmed Egyptian Goose breeding success occurred one day after the first. Highlights as follows:

07:30-08:30; 09:45-14:45

Mill Pond: 2 Gadwall (♂♀), 1 Mandarin (♂), 2 Mute Swans and 1 Blackcap.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 2 Grey Herons, 4 Red-legged Partridges, 10 Swallows, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Mandarin (♀ with 3 ducklings), 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 1 Little Grebe, 4 Blackcaps and 3 Chiffchaffs.

Tilsey Farm: 1 Buzzard, 10+ Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Gatestreet Farm: 10+ Greylag Geese and 2 Red-legged Partridges.

Bonhurst Farm: 2 Linnets, 12+ House Martins, 1 Buzzard, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Wintershall: 2 Egyptian Geese (+ 6 goslings) and 1 Blackcap.

Junction Field (10:00-14:35): 3 Black-headed Gulls (S 11:42), 7 Herring Gulls (W 12:26), 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 2 Cormorants (1 SE 10:20, 1 E 12:55), 4 Swifts, 2 Linnets, 2 Kestrels (♂♀), 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 17 Buzzards, 8 House Martins, 15+ Swallows, 2 Grey Herons, 1 Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

25th May

Very hot, with a pleasant south-easterly, and little cloud cover. Good for raptors, but I seemed to miss any of the apparent Red Kite movement that's been happening on the south coast (33 over Seaton, Devon today, and 30 over Sandwich Bay yesterday). A long-anticipated breeding first was proven, in the shape of 4 Egyptian Geese goslings, at Scrubbin's Pond. This species has tried and failed before, and I imagine there are a couple more pairs lurking in the estates. It also means 3 Goose species have bred at Scrubbin's this year. Elsewhere, not loads, though a couple of Spotted Flycatchers at Goose Green were good to see. Highlights as follows:

07:30-08:50; 12:00-14:45

Mill Pond: 2 Egyptian Geese, 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 2 Mute Swans and 2 Little Grebes.

Winkworth Arboretum: 2 Mandarins (♀♀, both with 3 ducklings), 1 Little Grebe, 1 Buzzard, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Goose Green: 2 Egyptian Geese (+ 4 goslings), 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 1 Skylark, 1 Grey Heron, 11 Greylag Geese (+ 5 goslings) and 2 Blackcaps.

Gatestreet Farm: 17 Greylag Geese, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 4 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Bonhurst Farm: 2 Whitethroats, 3 Linnets, 10+ House Martins, 3 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Junction Field (12:25-14:25): 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Raven, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 1 Kestrel (♂), 12 Buzzards, 7 Swallows, 2 House Martins, 2 Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

24th May

Much quieter today, which was very warm, with the pretty much non-existent northerly doing nothing to cool things down. Two Common Terns were present at Bramley Park Lake in the morning, just the second record this year. It's likely they were the same pair as earlier this month, and courtship behaviour was witnessed. I still can't work out where they're based, and they soon departed west. Elsewhere, as mentioned, there wasn't much, though I managed to catch up with Steve C for a couple of hours. The winds look slightly more favourable in the coming days, and I'm tempted to head out tonight for some nocturnal migration listening (or lack of). Highlights as follows:


Bramley Park Lake: 2 Common Terns (07:05-07:10, flew W), 1 Grey Heron and 1 Chiffchaff.

Mill Pond: 3 Mandarins (♂♂♂), 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀), 1 Blackcap and 1 Chiffchaff.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Little Owl, 4 Swallows and 2 Red-legged Partridges.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Mandarin (♀, with 3 ducklings), 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀), 1 Little Grebe, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Scotsland Farm to Juniper Hill to Nore Hanger: 1 Garden Warbler, 5 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

New Barn: 1 Garden Warbler, 3 Whitethroats, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 3 Buzzards, 3 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Hive Field (09:55-12:00): 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Skylark, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 10+ Buzzards, 3 House Martins, 10 Swallows, 3 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

23rd May

Despite June not being very far away, spring migration is seemingly still in full swing, and I reaped the benefits of this this morning by unblocking a true patch mega. It certainly wasn't what I expected when I made a first visit to Winkworth for a while, but a sub-singing Reed Warbler in bamboo in the southern end of Phillimore represented only the second ever record of this species in the recording area!
Common Blue in Hive Field

I managed some video, but the bird was rather quiet and very hard to see, and is only just audible in the clip that's linked. Despite this, I was pretty delighted to add another patch lifer this spring, bringing my personal total to 132. It's also a mighty fine bird for the year list, and continues a hot streak these past 5 days, with 3 year ticks bagged, as well as the third ever Curlew on Sunday.

Elsewhere, on a muggy, largely cloudy day with an occasional welcoming westerly, it seemed a late fall of warblers had occurred, with a much larger than normal tally of Whitethroats throughout (sadly no Lesser, a bird that still eludes me on patch...). Both a Herring Gull and Cormorant flew over Hive Field, as did 4 raptor species. The Surrey Wildlife Trust have begun to move into Bonhurst Farm, and sadly one of their first actions was to mow the lush grass meadows that had benefited from a sheep-less spring. Full highlights:

07:15-08:40; 09:45-12:20

Mill Pond: 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♂), 5 Mute Swans, 1 Mandarin (), 1 Little Grebe, 1 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Grey Heron.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 REED WARBLER (sub-singing in S end of Phillimore, 07:35-07:50 at least), 1 Cuckoo, 1 Marsh Tit, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Tufted Duck (♂), 7 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Gatestreet Farm: 19 Greylag Geese, 2 Red-legged Partridges and Blackcap.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Whitethroat, 5 Greylag Geese, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 3 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Scotsland Brook to New Barn: 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Whitethroats, 1 Marsh Tit, 2 Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps.

Hive Field (10:25-12:00): 1 Herring Gull (N at 11:27), 2 Whitethroats, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Skylark, 5+ Swifts, 1 Cormorant (N), 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 5+ House Martins, 8 Swallows, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 10+ Buzzards, 4 Chiffchaffs and 3 Blackcaps.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

21st May

A very lengthy and enjoyable session on patch today, with a number of standout birds, in largely sunny and hot conditions. The highlight was probably a Curlew that flew SE over Hive Field at 09:45. The bird was less than 100 feet up, and certainly not on a set mission anywhere. Indeed, I actually suspect it was scouting out potential breeding areas - there is a large patchwork of hay meadows here, and it was probably drawn in by the Machair-esque landscape! Whatever its intentions, this is just the 3rd record of Curlew here, after one in April 2015 and an individual over Allden's Hill in February this year.
Just like North Uist

Other notable birds during the sky-watch (that lasted nearly 5 hours, a couple of which were spent in the company of Matt P) at Hive Field included 7 Herring Gulls S/E, 2 singing Skylarks, 1 Cuckoo and 5 species of raptor on the wing. Away from Hive, 2 Marsh Tits and a Spotted Flycatcher were at Scotsland Brook, and 2 Siskins were heard over Juniper Hill.

Yesterday, a brief look before competing in the Mole Valley bird race yielded the usual fare, and thus I've refrained from doing a log for that day. As for the race, my team Linnet To Win It retained our crown with a surprisingly comfortable 93 species (second-place had 86). It was great to bird with Wes A again, an extremely knowledgeable birder, who's found heaps of good stuff in the Capel area. The bird of the day was a somewhat late Sandwich Tern at Buckland sand pit - a typically fine David C find.

Highlights from today as follows:


Mill Pond: 5 Mute Swans, 2 Little Grebes and 4 Mandarins (♂♂♂♀, plus 4 ducklings).

Gatestreet Farm: 17 Greylag Geese and 2 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 7 Greylag Geese, 12+ House Martins, 2 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Scotsland Brook to New Barn: 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Marsh Tits, 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Siskins, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 4 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs and 4 Buzzards.

Hive Field (09:45-14:35): 1 CURLEW (SE at 09:45), 1 Cuckoo, 7 Herring Gulls (1 E 10:14, 2 S 12:20 & 4 SE 13:04), 2 Skylarks, 1 Garden Warbler, 4+ Swifts, 2 House Martins, 7 Swallows, 12+ Buzzards, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 2 Linnets, 4 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.

Tilsey Farm: 1 Skylark, 1 Grey Wagtail (♂, Nobody's Pond), 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 2 Linnets, 2 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 5 House Martins and 20+ Swallows.

Friday, 19 May 2017

16th-19th May

Dotterel at Balemore, North Uist
Back after a few days in the Highlands. The main objective was to get Pied-billed Grebe and Black Duck on my Western Palearctic list, both of which were achieved, the latter a bit harder than expected with a couple of hybrid birds thrown into the mix. Clearly the drake's been enjoying himself, and it took some care to find the right guy. Up that far, it seemed rude not to pop over to North Uist, where the density of breeding waders, stunning Machair landscape and numerous Corncrakes made for a pleasant visit. Skua passage was disappointing - the winds were all wrong, and in 5 and a 1/2 hours I managed just 3 Long-tailed and 2 Pomarine, as well as a few unidentified birds that were miles out. A male Dotterel made up for the lack of Skuas, and other good birds on the trip included Golden Eagle, Puffins, Manx Shearwaters, 'Scottish' Crossbills and Short-eared Owls.

Anyway, today it was back to the patch in the cloud and rain. I had a long list of things to do so only a short-ish visit was managed, but the persisting joy of patching, that being the perennial hope that encourages one to look, struck. I had spent most mornings from mid-February to the end of March checking Rowe's Flashe for Pochards, and remarkably drew a blank (this species is normally annual at that time of year). Anyway, this morning, one of the first birds clocked on Mill Pond was a dapper pair of Pochard, on the far north side. Excellent. I had written this bird off after failing during the optimum period, so this was fantastic, and I now sit on 104 for the year.

The Pochard pair today
These birds are very rare on Mill Pond, and all previous records have been drakes after the breeding period. The fact this is a pair is interesting, though I'll be surprised if they stick. Mill Pond was actually quite busy - 2 Grey Herons were fishing, the 4 Mandarin ducklings remain with their mum and the drake Gadwall was about. Elsewhere, a Garden Warbler was at New Barn, the male Little Owl was hunting at Bonhurst and the first Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks were heard begging from a nest near Wintershall.

A small footnote - previously, I listed schedule 1 species in the sightings log when they were not close to breeding sites (my patch is very big). From now, this will cease, and no schedule 1 birds will be put on the blog. Furthermore, any schedule 1 species that are yet to be noted this year will also be omitted, unless they are clearly not breeding here or nearby. Highlights from today as follows:


Mill Pond: 2 Pochards (♂♀), 1 Gadwall (♂), 1 Little Grebe, 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 3 Mandarins ♂♂♀, plus 4 ducklings), 2 Grey Herons, 5 Mute Swans and 2 Blackcaps.

Combe Farm: 1 Buzzard, 3 Red-legged Partridges and 1 Chiffchaff.

Thorncombe Street: 3 Buzzards, 2 Swifts, 1 Swallow, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap.

Scotsland Brook - Hive Field: 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Buzzards, 2 Swifts, 2 Blackcaps and 1 Chiffchaff.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Little Owl, 3 Greylag Geese, 2 Linnets and 1 Blackcap.

Monday, 15 May 2017

15th May

A very early and brief visit, in drizzly and murky weather, before a long journey north. Highlights included another pair of Egyptian Geese, this time at Wintershall Ponds, with the species seemingly increasing here. This isn't totally surprising, given the huge amounts at nearby Busbridge. Indeed, I have always found it odd that they are traditionally infrequent here. Neither the Mute Swans or Gadwall were at Mill Pond.

North of the border, a Pied-billed Grebe on the rather remote Loch Feorlin was conveniently placed not far from our overnight stop, and I enjoyed distant views of the male, which has seemingly paired up with a Little Grebe. Indeed, the female had about 4 chicks in tow - sadly distance and weather conditions prevented me from getting even slightly good views of the young birds, but the Pied-billed certainly kept a close guard, and was aggressive towards any species coming too near. Highlights from both as follows:

05:40-06:20 (Thorncombe Street)

Mill Pond: 1 Tufted Duck (♂) and 1 Blackcap.

Combe Farm: 1 Buzzard and 4 Red-legged Partridges.

Wintershall ponds: 2 Egyptian Geese and 1 Blackcap.

Bonhurst Farm: 4 Greylag Geese, 2 House Martins, 3 Blackcaps and Linnets.


Loch Feorlin: 1 Pied-billed Grebe (♂), 1 Little Grebe (+ 4, possible hybrid, chicks), 2 Hooded Crows, 1 Raven, 1 Cuckoo, 3 Willow Warblers, 1 Wheatear (♂), 1 Buzzard, 2 Grey Wagtails, 5 Lesser Redpolls, 15+ Skylarks and 30+ Meadow Pipits.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

14th May

A quick look before a busy, non-birding day, in grey conditions. I'm sure the afternoon would have been good for raptors, with the sun coming out. Not much of note - the drake Gadwall had moved to Eastwaters pond, and one of the Bonhurst Little Owls showed well. Matt P reported 5 Mandarin chicks at Rowe's Flashe, the second breeding confirmation in the recording area this year. Highlights:


Mill Pond: 6 Mute Swans, 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀) and 3 Blackcaps.

Thorncombe Street: 1 Gadwall (♂, Eastwaters pond), 3 Blackcaps and 5 Red-legged Partridges.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Mandarin, 2 Tufted Ducks (♂♀), 3 Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps.

Bonhurst Farm: 1 Little Owl, 4 Greylag Geese, 2 Linnets, 2 Grey Herons (NE) and 2 Blackcaps.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

13th May

Started off wet, and intermittent showers continued until the middle of the day. A warm south-westerly throughout, with the sun largely breaking through by the late afternoon. In total it was a relatively lengthy session, though nothing striking was seen. 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls moving high north-east over Hive Field under a dark cloud at 15:17 was a seemingly typical May passage record of this species. Elsewhere, at least 1 Spotted Flycatcher was present in Great Brook, an unseasonable Siskin was near Rowe Barn Farm, 2 Egyptian Geese were in Thorncombe Park and the first Little Grebe young of the year was seen.

At this stage, I've recorded pretty much all the regular, expected patch birds. A couple of species I hope I can still bump into remain (Barn Owl, Brambling etc), and Ring Ouzel is likely in the autumn, but it seems the chance of a bonus spring migrant (e.g. Nightingale, Redstart) has passed, and reaching my previously stated goal of 120 seems pretty ambitious. Still, this place has sprung a few surprises during these last few years, and it's all about being in the POMO (position of maximum opportunity, as drilled into me by many a football coach as a kid!) for the rest of 2017. I'm still undecided on why my POMO is, maybe the Ridge, possibly Allden's Hill or perhaps Hive Field - it's probably best to spread my bets.

I must give a few words to some recent mammalian observations. A Bank Vole at Winkworth this morning became the 13th mammal recorded this year. In the last week I have enjoyed two encounters with a Stoat, in the same place, suggesting local breeding. Bird sightings of interest are as follows:

07:05-10:20; 14:05-17:00

Mill Pond: 1 Gadwall (♂), 1 Cormorant, 1 Grey Heron, 6 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀♂♀), 1 Little Grebe, 1 Mandarin (♀ + 4 young), 6 Mute Swans and 1 Blackcap.

Winkworth Arboretum: 1 Greylag Goose, 4 Tufted Ducks (♂♀♂♀), 1 Little Grebe, 3 Blackcaps and 3 Chiffchaffs.

Thorncombe Street: 2 Egyptian Geese, 4 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Blackcaps, 10 Swallows and 1 Siskin.

Bonhurst Farm: 4 Greylag Geese, 5 Swallows and 1 Blackcap.

Scotsland Farm-Leg-of-Mutton Copse-New Barn: 1+ Spotted Flycatcher (Great Brook), 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Little Grebes (+ 1 chick, on New Barn Pond), 4 Red-legged Partridges, 6 Swallows, 1 Buzzard, 1 Red Kite, 4 Chiffchaffs and 8 Blackcaps.

Hive Field (14:20-16:50): 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (high NE 15:17), 2 Swifts, 1 Raven, 1 Sparrowhawk (♂), 8+ Buzzards, 2 Red Kites, 7 Swallows, 3 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs.