Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Shalford patch diary and local round-up, October & early November

What with the dwindling daylight hours and a week away chasing rarities on Shetland the patch has been somewhat neglected recently although I've still managed a dozen or so visits since the last one of these diary/round-up posts, including several migration watches from St Catherine's Hill, but more on that later. 

The most notable thing about Shalford Water Meadows at the moment is the distinct lack of water. It's hard to believe we're over a week into November when this muddy puddle represents one of the largest areas of standing water on the patch.
St Catherine's Pool, in need of a top-up!
Still, there's enough water left for a few wildfowl, with Teal numbers peaking so far at 16 on the 18th. I've seen the odd Snipe recently but clearly the habitat is not nearly wet enough at present for good numbers. Lapwing have proved to be just a flyover species for me so far at Shalford, usually in small numbers, so I was glad when Sean Foote picked up 26 flying over distantly on 8th October during a little pre-Shetland walk; by far my highest count of this species locally. On 6th November a Green Sandpiper flew high over Broadford Marsh mid-morning heading south-west and seemingly dropped down somewhere on the patch, although I lost the bird in the glare of the sun and couldn't relocate it. It was also good to see the first returning Little Egret of this winter on the same morning, when one flew up from the marsh and disappeared over the trees to the north.  

The first patch year tick since August came on 29th October when I heard the unmistakable call of Crossbill from/over Shalford Park, but the combination of wind and road noise from the A281 made it impossible to locate the bird(s). Stonechats are again a regular feature with three present on 30th October and 5th November, while Siskin numbers are building, with at least 50 around on the 29th.
Stonechat (male)
Stonechat (male)
Stonechat (female)
Redpoll numbers still seem low, with just single figures seen so far this autumn, the first being one west over St Catherine's Hill on 5th October.  The same migration watch session also produced the first Redwings of the season with at least 8 over while bigger numbers arrived a few days later, with at least 60 over on the 8th. The first Fieldfares, meanwhile, were two flying north on 29th October, again with larger numbers arriving a week or so later when at least 35 flew over on 8th November. Decent numbers of Chaffinches have been moving recently too, with a couple of dozen over on the 8th bringing with them at least one Brambling which was heard only so I couldn't confirm numbers.

Despite a bumper autumn for Yellow-browed Warblers in Surrey and the UK as a whole, many a hopeful trawl through the tit flocks on the patch has yet to deliver the goods, but there have been plenty of Chiffchaffs, with at least 5 present on 5th November, seemingly all just regular collybitas although presumably of more northern origin this late in the year. 
Going back to the St Catherine's Hill migration watches, and I'd hoped that my newly-found patch vantage point would provide some Woodpigeon magic in the past week or so. 690 south-west in an hour on the 2nd was a decent count but it seems like maybe they just haven't got going in massive numbers yet this autumn, at least not in Surrey anyway. Black-headed Gulls on the other hand have been streaming over in recent days, with 1035 south (and 1 north!) in 50 minutes early on the 8th interspersed with smaller numbers of Herrings, Commons and Lesser Black-backeds. These are presumably birds coming out of roost from the reservoirs nearer London and following the Wey down to feeding grounds on the fields around here. Still, quite a spectacle and I'm hoping there may be a rarer gull in tow with them at some point.
St Catherine's Hill, early morning
Away from the patch and there's been a few local bits of note recently. My Chilworth garden list got an unexpected addition on the 30th when a Great White Egret flew east at dusk, followed closely by a Little Egret for comparison. I had just earlier the same day been pondering the lack of local Little Egrets so far this winter! Unfortunately a last light scan of the ponds in Albury - a favourite roosting spot for Little Egrets - produced nothing although I did note Mandarin Duck numbers are again increasing on Postford Pond with 45 present. I also heard a Firecrest calling by Waterloo Pond on the 29th. The garden excitement didn't stop with the GWE as the following morning there was a Ring Ouzel in with the Redwings in the big holly and hawthorn hedge behind our house. My garden list now stands on 86 after 26 months. 
Popular beauty spot Newlands Corner is on my route to work so I've been popping in occasionally of late, particularly towards the end of October when I was hoping to find a Ring Ouzel or two lurking in the Whitebeams and Rowans. Sadly no joy but I did have a decent morning on the 20th with 2 Redpoll, 2 Brambling and a Crossbill over and at least 70 Redwings around.
On 5th November I visited the old sandpit and now filled-in landfill site in Albury to carry out the first of many bird surveys at the request of the management company Suez. Fellow surveyors John, Dave and I had a decent couple of hours on site, with two Ravens the most notable species, although it was also good to see at least 4 Skylarks, 20 Meadow Pipits and a modest flock of Linnets using the site, currently best described as a scrubby, grassy hill. Over time we hope to build up a better picture of what birds are using the site and offer advice as to how best proceed with the habitat restoration. 
Looking west along the hill in Albury Sandpit
The view north from the sandpit towards the North Downs

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