Saturday, 1 October 2016

Shalford patch diary and local round-up, late September

Now we're past the autumn equinox it's getting to that time of year where patch birding is soon to become a weekend affair, with usable daylight before and after work fading rapidly. Nonetheless, recent early and late visits to Shalford Water Meadows have produced the odd spark of interest as well as treating me to some pretty spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
Heading back to my car after a pretty quiet post-work visit on the 20th something caught my eye flying down from a tree near the Dagley Lane railway bridge. Looking over the side of the bridge I saw a Kestrel that had clearly just caught something in the vegetation beside the railway line - a Slow-worm! I managed to film some of its struggle with the unfortunate reptile.
I also noticed the bird was sporting a blue leg ring. Knowing he rings lots of Kestrels in this part of the world I sent the video to Jeremy Gates who was able to confirm this was the only sighting to date of a female he ringed in Worplesdon back in May 2014.
The other big bit of news recently has been the rain. After an extended spell of hot and dry weather to start the month the first substantial rainfall in what seemed like ages came on the 16th and it was a joy to head out to the patch the following morning to find some of the pools filling up again. Out on Broadford Marsh there were at least four Grey Wagtails plus the first three Snipe of winter. Wildfowl numbers will hopefully start to build now that there's actually some habitat for them again - on the 25th there were at least ten Teal and a dozen Shoveler around.
Grey Wagtail

Greylag Geese
As I mentioned in my previous blog post the hirundines are now well and truly gathering to leave us for the winter. The House Martin nests on Kings Road in Shalford were all empty by the 18th and there have been some pretty impressive numbers of them over the patch recently (see further down this blog post for more on that).
House Martin nest on Kings Road
After the remarkable passage of Yellow Wagtails on the 8th I decided it was high time (no pun intended) I sought out a decent visible migration watch-point within the patch boundaries, so I checked out St Catherine's Hill to the north-west of St Catherine's Lock and discovered the vantage point to be excellent, looking right out across much of the water meadows, with a clear view north to Guildford and beyond, south towards Bramley and Godalming and east towards Pewley Down and the Chantries.
Looking east from St Catherine's Hill
Sunrise from St Catherine's Hill
  I'm actually slightly annoyed with myself for not exploring the hill sooner to be honest as the first few watches I've done in the past fortnight have proved productive. A drizzly hour on the 17th yielded at least 400 each of House Martin and Swallow west/north-west plus an adult Great Black-backed Gull south-west. The following Saturday (24th) was all about the House Martins with wave after wave of them following the ridge west from the Chantries (c.860 the final morning's tally) plus two Red Kites west together right over Guildford town centre and a Yellow Wagtail oddly flying purposefully north.
Towards the end of the month Meadow Pipit passage really picked up and I had 185 south in an hour early on the 30th, although there were probably many more I missed as I could hear them calling around me before it was light enough to pick them out. Also of note the same morning were the first Common Gull and Siskins of winter with one and seven south respectively, an impressive flock of 17 Cormorants south in V formation plus a Song Thrush high west and a Barnacle x Canada Goose over with five each of Canada and Greylag. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what else this viewpoint produces in the coming weeks.
Black-headed Gulls streaming south
Peregrine over St Catherine's Hill
Away from the patch there's been bird-based excitement both at home and work. In the evening on the 21st I had a Woodlark over my Chilworth garden while I was keeping a hopeful eye out for the Osprey that Ed Stubbs had just had flying east low over Godalming town centre - sadly the latter never materialised for me despite two previous garden records including one which lingered for several days in August 2014.
At my workplace in West Clandon, meanwhile, there's been plenty of autumn migrant action, with two Wheatears and a Whinchat dropping in in September plus several flyover Yellow Wags, a Tree Pipit on the 20th and a vocal flock of around forty Golden Plover south in drizzly conditions on the 27th. Check out my work blog for more of the wildlife goings-on there.

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