Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Shalford patch diary, late May/early June

After a flurry of migrants at Shalford in the first half of last month my patch list had been stuck on 100 since adding Common Tern on 18th May and I was approaching the beginning of June wondering which species would come next. Hobby perhaps? Or Cuckoo at last? There's still a few relatively common things I've not caught up with here. One of the joys of patch birding, of course, is the element of surprise. Sometimes the last thing you can think of turns up when you least expect it, and I think it's fair to say that stumbling across a Brent Goose at the end of May was about the last thing I was thinking of when I headed out for a stroll around the patch on the morning of the 29th.

Having done one of my usual routes, entering by the gate near Dagley Lane allotments and doing a little circuit of Broom Meadow (I promise I'll put a map on here one of these days!) my girlfriend and I then headed upstream along the navigation towards Broadford Bridge. There were lots of joggers, walkers and cyclists out and about as it was already mid-morning by this point and I wasn't expecting much in the way of patch gold as we headed up the steps to the Railway Line Walk.

The trees have leafed up really quickly along here and there's now only a couple of spots where one can easily view Broadford Marsh to the south. At the first such viewpoint I stopped to have a quick scan and waxed lyrical to Kate about the muddy edges looking absolutely perfect for a wader right now but 'there's just a lone Canada Goose out there today', I said pointing to a bird huddled up asleep. Wandering along to the next gap in the trees I stopped for another quick look and saw that the bird had lifted its head and that its head was in fact entirely black, with a thin white neck collar. It also suddenly seemed a lot smaller now I could see the whole bird. 'That's a Brent Goose!' I exclaimed to Kate who tried to exhibit at least a little of the same excitement as me.

The words had barely left my mouth before the bird took flight and disappeared from view. Scurrying down the slope towards the horse field we managed to pick it up again as it made a couple of circuits low over the field, its gleaming white tail feathers now very obvious along with the white bars across the top of its wings indicating it was born last year. It occasionally looked as though it might come down in the field but soon gained a little more height and flew off over the trees to the south-east. It may well have come down again somewhere locally but that was the last I saw of it. The most remarkable moment on my patch to date and all over in a matter of minutes.

Only the fourth record of Brent Goose in Surrey in 2016 and only my second ever record in the county after two that flew south over Leith Hill early one morning last October. I know there have been May records before and Dave Harris had one in June over QE2 Reservoir several years ago, but still a very unusual record I think it's fair to say. 

Branta-based excitement aside, it's been largely business as usual these past couple of weeks. The bulk of the passage migrants seem to have moved through now, certainly in terms of passerines anyway, and the breeding resident and migrant species are now getting on with nesting and rearing young. Indeed, many resident species' young have already fledged, with plenty of juvenile Pied Wagtails around the Broadford area now. 
A stroll down the Railway Line Walk at the moment is soundtracked by the distinctive squeaking of young Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the nest. Warbler numbers appear to have stabilised at a reasonable number after the usual glut of new arrivals in April and early May, and there now seem to be three Garden Warblers holding territory between St Catherine's Lock and Broadford, along with at least two Sedge Warblers. Reed Warblers have been a bit more hit and miss and the last one I had on patch was singing by the Riff Raff weir on the 29th, which may well have been a migrant still coming through.  

Swifts seem to still be arriving in reasonable numbers and just this morning there were a dozen or so feeding low over St Catherine's Lock with at least two each of Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin. Also this morning the first Black-headed Gulls for a while were noted, with three adults flying high south-west. Kingfishers have been a more frequent sight this past week or so flying up and down the river, raising my suspicions they are breeding locally. On the raptor side of things the resident Kestrels and Buzzards have been busy bringing food to their nests. Still waiting for that patch Hobby though!

A few more recent shots:
Grey Wagtail at St Catherine's Lock

Song Thrush

Stock Doves having a scrap
Beautiful Demoiselle

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