Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Shalford patch diary, weeks fourteen and fifteen

Monday 4th April
An after work visit to the patch produced at least six Chiffchaffs, one Blackcap and three Swallows on the migrant front, while the first Mallard ducklings of the year were out on Broadford Marsh. Other wildfowl were represented by at least twenty-nine Teal, half a dozen Shoveler and two Mandarin while the drake Gadwall was still present on St Catherine's Pool. Of note overhead were three Lesser Black-backed Gulls north and two Red Kites north-west together. 
First ducklings of the year

Tuesday 5th April
A quick early morning dash round the patch before work again produced a handful of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, while wildfowl numbers were considerably lower than yesterday evening with just three each of Shoveler and Teal and two Mandarin of note. The two Little Owls were in their usual tree while noteworthy flyovers were two Greylag Geese south and a Skylark east. 

Wednesday 6th April
An evening circuit of the patch after a day of showers. Of note were singles of Mandarin and Gadwall, a pair of Shoveler and nine Teal. Out in the horse field there were at least ten Pied Wagtails and three Fieldfare which may prove to be my last of the season. Pretty much the last bird of this evening's visit was a Peregrine flying over Broom Meadow. 
Thursday 7th April
It had been another typical showery April day when I headed to the patch after work, and I hadn't walked far before the heavens opened again for a more persistent spell of rain which soaked me to the bone during my two hour visit. Wildfowl numbers are definitely dropping now, with just two pairs each of Teal and Shoveler around the place. The smaller birds were in fine voice despite the weather, including at least one Willow Warbler, and an unexpected Redstart (88) which sang briefly near the Riff Raff weir during another heavy burst of rain before disappearing behind a thick hedge where it called for a while then went silent. There were an impressive seventeen Pied Wags out in the horse field, while Broom Meadow harboured at least ten Linnets. Signs of movement overhead came in the form of two House Martins, two Grey Wagtails and a single Swallow, all heading north. 

Saturday 9th April
An extended morning visit which again saw me dodging the showers. Overnight rain had clearly brought with it an increase in Blackcaps as there were at least six singing males around and an obvious pair flitting around together in the Broadford area. It was down this end of the patch I also found the first Carrion Crow nest of the year, plus a singing Willow Warbler. 
Carrion Crow nest 
Hirundine numbers are also on the up, with at least eight Sand Martins, six Swallows and two House Martins through during my visit, plus others too high to be identified with confidence. 
Sand Martin 
The drake Gadwall was again on St Catherine's Pool, but the only other wildfowl of note were three Mandarin. Raptors were up and enjoying the sunshine mid-morning, with at least ten Buzzards in and around patch airspace, two Kestrels and three Sparrowhawks, including a pair displaying. The Little Owl was also in its usual tree. 
Richard Waters visited later and had nine Greylag Geese fly over.
Greylag Geese - Richard Waters

In the afternoon I took a stroll up nearby Pewley Down, hoping to finally catch up with a local Wheatear, but found just a single Yellowhammer of note. 

Sunday 10th April
An early and frosty start for a dawn visit to my workplace Winkworth Arboretum (for the montly WeBS count) and nearby Thorncombe Street where I found three lingering Brambling up on 'The Ridge' and also heard my first Cuckoo of the year. 
Another first for the year came on the patch a little while later with the familiar scratchy warble of a Whitethroat coming from an Elder bush by the railway line. Increasingly one of the most numerous warblers in Surrey, always great to see them return. 
First Whitethroat of 2016 (honest!)
There were also at least six Blackcaps singing again and nine Chiffchaffs, including one pair already busy nest building near St Catherine's Pool. The Little Owl was again present as were at least two of the resident Kestrels (I think there are two pairs here now), while flyover highlights were a heard only Redpoll and two House Martins west. 

Monday 11th April
A late afternoon visit today produced at least two Whitethroats singing along with the usual scattering of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Wildfowl were represented by six Teal, one Shoveler and a pair of Mandarin while there were at least six Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk up in the sky, along with two Red Kites which flew north-west together, as they did on the 4th, but this time they later came back the same way, again flying in tandem. 
It was good to meet fellow local bird Tim Staton who is a regular at Shalford - I'm not sure how it's taken me four months of patch watching the area to bump into him! We had a good chat about the area and other local birding highlights. As we were chatting four House Martins flew north. 
Later on in the evening lengthsman Rob Craig reported a Little Egret.

Tuesday 12th April
An extended daytime visit to the patch after an early start for my first WBBS visit of the year to the river at Papercourt Water Meadows near Woking, which had given me my first Sedge Warbler of the year, plus singing Cuckoo and a Water Rail in flight along the river.
It was already a gloriously warm and sunny morning by the time I got to Shalford and the whole place was ringing with birdsong. Warbler numbers were particularly impressive, with at least twenty-three Chiffchaffs, fourteen Blackcaps, one Whitethroat and seven Willow Warblers across the recording area. The latter is particularly notable for a species which is increasingly a mere passage migrant in swathes of Surrey now. 
The Chiffchaffs are now clearly pairing up fast and I watched several prospecting nest sites today. Raptors too were enjoying the spring weather with at least ten Buzzards airborne along with three Sparrowhawks, two Kestrels and two Red Kites. A Raven also drifted over very high going south-west mid-afternoon. 
Raven (I did say it was high!)

Other signs of spring included two Mallard ducklings following a female along the navigation and Magpies gathering nesting material. Hirundines were represented by one House Martin, two Swallow and five Sand Martin. Other highlights from today were five Mandarin and three Little Grebes on St Catherine's Pool and the usual Little Owl pair again in their tree. It was also clearly an excellent day for butterflies as I saw my first Orange-tip, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood of 2016 along with at least ten Small Tortoiseshell, nine Brimstone and six Peacock

Wednesday 13th April
Another largely fine day with just the odd shower and I again headed down to the water meadows after work. Plenty of warbler song again, with at least eleven Chiffchaffs and four Blackcaps. On St Catherine's Pool I found two Little Grebes and the drake Gadwall still present, while there a dozen very young Mallard ducklings on the navigation by St Catherine's Lock, including three pure yellow ones! Flyover highlights from this evening's visit were Sparrowhawk, a Red Kite east, one Swallow and a House Martin east. 
One of the bright yellow ducklings at St Catherine's Lock

Thursday 14th April
After an absolutely stonking six hour Leith Hill tower migration watch this morning I wasn't expecting too much from my afternoon visit to Shalford - you can't expect fireworks all the time, especially when it comes to birding in Surrey.
The weather was also on the turn and rain was clearly on the way when I arrived at the patch.
Still, I again found the place alive with singing warblers; at least ten each of Chiffchaff and Blackcap and a single Whitethroat.
Storm clouds gathering over St Catherine's Lock
The last of the sunshine meant there were still several raptors up and about: at least two each of Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel seen during my visit plus a single Red Kite west. Water birds were rather thin on the ground, or water, with just the lingering drake Gadwall, one Little Grebe and three Mandarin of note.
Overhead a couple of Swallows and House Martins passed through, while the butterflies were again out in force, with at least four each of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell and singles of Comma and Brimstone seen.

Friday 15th April
A decent three hour visit to the patch this morning (I had a few days off this week in between finishing at Winkworth and starting my new job on the 18th) which produced 53 species. First up was an unexpected patch tick on one of the Broadford pools: a Great Crested Grebe (91) - not only my first record of one in the Chilworth/Albury/Shalford area in two years of living locally, but also the first time Rob Craig has heard of one here in all his time as lengthsman. There was also a trio of Tufted Duck in the same area; only my second record of this species at Shalford this year.
Warbler numbers were again good, with at least thirteen Chiffchaffs, six Blackcaps and four Whitethroats around. Out in the horse field Pied Wagtails were gathering nesting material while in Bog Meadow a pair of Reed Buntings were frequenting a bramble patch. Gull numbers have dropped right down in the past two or three weeks, so two Lesser Black-backed Gulls north-east were noteworthy. Hirundines were again trickling through with at least three Swallows and nine House Martins north, while two Sand Martins bucked the trend and flew south!

Saturday 16th April
Another three hour patch stint from dawn this morning produced 55 species. The Great Crested Grebe was still present in the Broadford area, as was a singing Willow Warbler - the first one for a few days. Other warblers were represented by at least eleven Blackcaps, nine Chiffchaffs and four Whitethroats. There was a fair amount of movement going on overhead, with five Greylags south-west, three Lesser Black-backed Gulls, two Herring Gulls and the first Black-headed Gull for a while plus seven Swallows north. There were an impressive four Sparrowhawks in the air together at one point, all displaying and having a bit of a dogfight over Broadford - quite impressive to watch!
There were still a couple of Teal around in addition to two Mandarin, three Grey Herons and a Little Grebe.

Sunday 17th April
A morning spent surveying on the Ash Ranges produced my first Tree Pipits of the year, plus good numbers of Redstarts, Dartford Warblers, a trio of Woodlarks, a couple of Swallows and a flyover Cuckoo. In the afternoon my girlfriend and I paid a visit to our Shalford allotment where we had a single Swallow flying and singing low overhead as we dug, plus a flyover Redpoll.
It was only a brief visit to the patch this evening then, after all that, with again no new additions to the year list. It was nice to see half a dozen or so House Martins seemingly lingering over the village though, rather than just racing through, unlike the single Sand Martin which zoomed north low over Broom Meadow.
Never noticed this sign before - anyone fancy a long stroll?

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