Sunday, 31 January 2016

This week on the patch, 25th-31st January

Tuesday 26th January

I only had time for a 70 minute visit this morning in blustery conditions. More or less the first bird I saw as I entered the gate into the water meadows was a Red Kite drifting slowly overhead. Unfortunately this was the moment I realised my camera was kaput, after several failed attempts to capture the bird. So, very few photos this week unfortunately! Anyway, onwards to the river where I quickly noticed a first winter male Stonechat on the fence opposite the lock keeper's cottage - presumably the same bird that has been present for a couple of weeks at least. A little later I also caught up with the female of the species. As usual there was a steady stream of Black-headed Gulls trickling south, with a scattering of Common Gulls amongst them, all hampered somewhat by the strengthening south-westerly. After counting the Teal on the pool by the railway bridge - 13 in all - I thought I'd take a quick look up the Railway Line Walk to see if there was anything out on the marsh to the south (there wasn't). I hadn't got far past the pillbox when I heard a 'toot' call, somewhere between a Dunnock and a Bullfinch, and then noticed a Chiffchaff making its way through the bushes on the leeward side of the bund. The bird quickly made itself scarce and didn't call again, and I wasn't able to relocate it in the windy conditions. Now, I'm not even certain the Chiffchaff was what I'd heard calling but if it was then it would seem to suggest the bird was a tristis. One that got away.

Later in the day, Robin Stride had a Little Egret further north up the river by Guildford Rowing Club.

Thursday 28th January

A brief after work visit before dark yielded 4 Common Gulls north, 4 Shoveler flying to the pool east of St Catherine's Lock, a pair of Kestrel, 13 Egyptian Geese south-west, and great views of a confiding Little Owl just across the river from the lock keeper's cottage, which stayed put for a while before flying across the river towards me, banking over my head and flying back off across the field west of the river.

Looking south-west from St Catherine's Lock at dusk

Saturday 30th January

A very enjoyable four hours on the patch this morning  produced 49 species. Amongst the first birds when I arrived were a Grey Wagtail which flew up from the river, and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull flying south - one of two recorded this morning. Indeed, the gull passage was noticeably strong this morning in good conditions, with a total of 168 Black-headed, 13 Common, 46 Herring and the two previously mentioned Lesser Black-backeds over while I was present, mostly heading south with the exception of the Herring Gulls which were mostly moving north/north-east.

The Alders along the river held at least 40 Siskins and 2 Lesser Redpoll, while the now usual couple of Stonechats were out in the meadow just north-east of St Catherine's Lock. The pool by the railway bridge held 11 Teal, while a pair of Shoveler flew over towards the pool east of St Catherine's Lock.

In addition to the gulls moving overhead 7 Egyptian Geese flew south-west followed a little while later by 7 Greylags heading west. As the sunshine increased a couple of Buzzards appeared from the east and soared for a while and a Red Kite drifted high north-west. A very nice end to the session was the appearance of two Ravens heading east towards Chilworth and Albury, each giving a little tumble as they went.

Sunday 31st January

An early visit this morning in drizzly rain again saw good numbers of gulls moving overhead - the highest counts I've recorded here this year, in fact, with totals of 226 Black-headeds, 4 Lesser Black-backeds and 28 each of Herring and Common, again all mainly heading south. I'd love to know where all these gulls end up. I know many of the Commons are to be found down the Thorncombe Valley during the day, but the other three species are relatively scarce down there, so perhaps they're taking a south-westerly tack when the river splits and heading towards Godalming and beyond. Anyway, changing the subject, a Little Egret flying south made for a nice change in amongst frantically counting the gulls!

Also present in unusually high numbers this morning were Siskins, with a flock of at least a hundred flying from an Alder near the lock keeper's cottage first thing as I approached, followed by at least twice that many again lifting up out of the reeds near St Catherine's Lock a short while later.

After a brief trip to Unstead Sewage Farm with Ed Stubbs (which yielded little in the way of birds, although it was nice to run into Eric Soden and Brian Milton) we both headed back to Shalford for a quick look at the Broadford Marsh area which produced a male Stonechat, a Reed Bunting and a couple of drake Teal, as well as a scattering of gulls and a Cormorant heading north - one of at least eight around or over here today.

In non-birding news, a large bush by the river covered in white blossom was catching the sun beautifully on Saturday morning, briefly fooling me into thinking it was Blackthorn. This would of course be exceptionally early, although there have been plenty of records of it flowering elsewhere already this year. This is in fact the closely-related Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera), told from Blackthorn by the absence of thorns and pure white rather than creamy white flowers.

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