Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Thursday, 27 July 2017

25th-27th July

After some pretty unproductive weather of late, the forecast for today looked extremely appealing, and I'd planned to juggle work so I'd have it largely free. I was close to tweeting about July 27th this morning, as it remains somewhat legendary in patch terms. On this day in 2015 the only ever records of Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit came, in remarkably similar conditions to today. A blustery south-westerly, intermittent heavy, low cloud and light showers, added to the historical significance, meant it was surely a prime opportunity to go for Operation Patch Wader.

South side of the Ridge where the Godwits flew over
A dawn recce of Winkworth and the New Barn area got the day off to an interesting start. Both sites produced Spotted Flycatchers, away from any (known) nest sites, and it's likely they were migrant birds. A gorgeous, lemony Willow Warbler was also at New Barn, and 25+ Swifts made their way south under the clouds. It felt like a day for some magic to happen, and I even uttered these sentiments to my girlfriend.

I planned to get a good few hours of work in, but the BBC and their erratic weather forecasts had me racing back to the Ridge for 11:45, with the showers now expected at 12, not 3. Swift movement was evident - by the end of the sky-watch I'd tallied up 77 moving west. At this time of year I've found Swift action to be a good forbearance of other species passing through (normally just the odd Gull).

At around 12:10 the forecast cloud drifted in from the west, and with it just the slightest bit of rain. At 12:20 I picked up a tight flock of birds, initially thought to be racing pigeons, moving north-east-east over the southern facing side of the Ridge. Binoculars soon revealed striking wing bars, white rumps and long trailing legs - Black-tailed Godwits! A rough count estimated the group to be approximately 40-strong.
Comma, Winkworth, 25/7/2017

The flock weren't particularly high, and I actually lost them briefly behind an Oak tree. In that time I reached for my camera, but despite being on the birds for a good minute or two, failed to get any pictures. I switched back to bins as they climbed slightly, and did a quick recount before they disappeared over Junction Field.

There are a few reasons as to why this record was so thrilling, and remarkable. Firstly, it was a patch tick and mega 'un-blocker' for me, both of which are very rare things. Second of all, it was a stunning encapsulation of migration over the patch. Thirdly, it was an early completion of my wader operation, and absolutely not how I expected! Any wetland bird here is of note, let alone a large flock of waders. To top it all off, when I got home and did some research, it seems this is actually a record count of Black-tailed Godwits in Surrey - crazy stuff.

If it was the spring, Godwits moving east would make a little more sense, given the theory that birds 'cut the corner' on the south coast and come out at the Thames/Wash. Perhaps the wind and cloud threw them off a bit, and their reorientation had them heading to the north/east Kent coast. Or, perhaps, they were simply switching from the River Wey to the Wey-Arun Canal (a theory I've touched on previously), before continuing south.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Selsey, 25/7/2017
On the way home, a staggering 520+ Jackdaws were counted in the corvid flock at Thorncombe Park. Tuesday and Wednesday were quiet on the patch, bar a record count of 36 Canada Geese yesterday, and the confirmation (after worrying doubts) of breeding Kestrels on the 25th. An after work trip to the beach on Tuesday produced just the one juvenile Yellow-legged Gull among a flock at Selsey, but what a handsome, pale bird it was (picture attached).