Monday, 8 May 2017

Shalford patch diary and local round-up, 29th April-8th May

29th April

Just a brief Shalford visit this afternoon after a few hours at the Tice's Meadow BioBlitz earlier in the day. Highlights were two Sand Martins at St Catherine's Lock, three House Martins and the first juvenile Blackbird of the year near Dagley Lane allotments.
Blackbird (juvenile)

30th April

Two visits today produced a total of 55 species and two year ticks. The morning produced three Garden Warblers, five Swallows, three Sand Martins and at least four House Martins, plus one of the usual Stonechat pair at St Catherine's and the two Red-legged Partridges in Horse Field. Also of note were a Bullfinch collecting Dandelion seedheads - I'm not sure whether for food or nesting material or both? - and a female Mandarin investigating tree holes in Broom Meadow. Overhead there was a clear movement of Lesser Black-backed Gulls going on, also noted by Wes Attridge in Capel. I had a total of 33 over during my morning visit, mostly going north-east.
Stonechat (female) - Kit Britten
In the afternoon I did a little circuit of Broadford Marsh before setting up for a skywatch from the Horse Field which produced the first patch Swifts of the year, with three going south, hotly pursued by the first Hobby of the year.

1st May

The day started with a tower watch up Leith Hill. There didn't seem to be anything much at all on the move - or not that we could see anyway through the low cloud - but a last gasp Hawfinch flying past picked up by David Campbell was nice to see, although I got on it very late. Interesting time of year for one there, perhaps they are breeding locally?

Anyway, as the rain set in at around 9 I decided to head to Shalford to see what might be grounded. The rain had abated as I arrived but there were plenty of threatening black clouds around so I decided to set up camp at the edge of Broadford Marsh in the hope of a wader dropping in. A Little Egret dropped in very briefly before flying off. Another was seen later and after receiving a message from Kit Britten telling me he'd seen a pair together, the two then flew straight over Broadford heading south.
Little Egrets - Kit Britten
Just before noon the blackest cloud of the day unleashed a proper downpour. I hunkered down in the bushes, keeping my eyes on the window of sky I could see above the marsh. Suddenly I noticed two birds flying in low and purposefully from the south. I initially thought they were small gulls or terns through bins but then quickly realised from their flight action these were large waders. The general greyish colour, lack of trailing legs or wing bars pointed me to the ever tricky combo of Whimbrel/Bar-tailed Godwit, and with the birds rapidly disappearing over the trees, rain spattered bins and no scope, I knew I wasn't going to be able to clinch the ID. Frustrating, but so exciting to see the rain deliver so fast!

Within minutes another bird appeared in the same window of sky: a Hobby powering its way north through the rain. I messaged Kit who'd just left the patch to fill him in and, as I struggled to write something coherent on my rain-drenched phone screen a familiar call alerted me to a very handsome male Yellow Wagtail which had just dropped down on the marsh right in front of me. After a few minutes the rain stopped and the bird took flight again, although I thought I'd heard at least one other bird call overhead just before it did so. Kit arrived on patch just in time to connect with two other Yellow Wags - possibly the ones I'd heard - flying north along the river. Yellow Wagtail is the 100th species recorded at Shalford this year and my 98th.

A day to get the pulse racing and a reminder that the right conditions can deliver the goods.

2nd May

Just a brief visit to Broadford after work, following on from the Crane excitement earlier in the day, proved very quiet despite the showery conditions. Aside from the usual bits and bobs around and about a single Herring Gull east seemed to be the only mover.

3rd May

A pre-work visit today produced 47 species including two each of Garden Warbler and Sedge Warbler, at least nine Whitethroats and two Mandarins. Overhead movement including three Swifts (seemingly local), two Swallows north, four Herring Gulls east, one Black-headed Gull north-east and a single Lapwing east. Greylag Goose is the least frequently seen of the common geese species here so it was notable to see four flying west, one going south and a sixth bird which flew up from Broadford. Breeding evidence today included the first juvenile Robin of the year, Blackbirds carrying food and a vocal pair of Sparrowhawks.

Robin (juvenile)

4th May

John Austin visited this morning and reported a Little Egret and a singing Lesser Whitethroat near St Catherine's Lock - I species I'd hoped to get on patch this spring after only autumn records last year.

I paid a quick visit to part of the Broadford area after work (had I known earlier about the Lesser Whitethroat I would have headed further north!) and had a flyover Red Kite, two Swifts, a Garden Warbler, two drake Mandarins and a rather unseasonal lone female Teal.

5th May

Another early visit before work and from fairly early on it was clear that Swifts were moving through in good numbers; unsurprising after the big arrivals on the south coast the previous day. The first two groups were of six and seven followed by smaller numbers, all powering through quite low. Pretty much the first bird I saw/heard was a Yellow Wagtail flying north low over Mill Mead Meadow. Garden Warblers and Sedge Warblers were again vocal with at least four and two of each singing, respectively. The usual Stonechat pair were at St Catherine's Lock while there was a single Little Egret on St Catherine's Pool. Other than the Swifts, overhead action included two Sand Martins north and seven Lesser Black-backed Gulls south.
6th May

52 species in 3.5 hours this morning included confirmed breeding of Long-tailed Tit and Mistle Thrush with both species seen feeding newly-fledged young. Of note on the migrant front were four singing Garden Warblers, 20+ Swifts, 15+ Swallows and a couple of House Martins. Sedge Warbler numbers continue to increase with at least four singing today. There'd also clearly been a mini arrival of Reed Warblers with two singing - one up near the waterworks and one near the Riff Raff weir. It was good also to find a probable Sparrowhawk nest in an area of the patch where I'd suspected they'd bred last year. The usual Stonechat pair were at St Catherine's Lock while there was a single Little Egret on Broadford Marsh.
Suspected Sparrowhawk nest

7th May

Another day away from the patch for me as I'd been asked to again lead the NT dawn chorus walk at Leith Hill. A crowd of 20 people turned out and we were treated to the best the site has to offer: 3 Garden Warblers, 3 Cuckoo (2 male/1 female) plus my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year characteristically flitting about in a tree halfway up the footpath from the Rhododendron Wood. After a much needed breakfast at the tower I decided to check out Duke's Warren, not fancying a tower watch in the drizzle and blasting north-easterly. On the path down to the heath I ran into Paul Stevenson and we had a good stroll around connecting with first a Woodcock which flew up from the vegetation just by the path, then on the heath itself we found two Tree Pipits, a Woodlark and three Redstarts. A brief tower watch to end the morning proved unproductive aside from a male Cuckoo which flew up from near the tower then powered its way south until it was no longer visible - perhaps it had had enough of this weather too?!

Kit Britten put in a session at Shalford this morning and reported 50 species including confirmed Grey Wagtails breeding and the first Mandarin ducklings of the year near the Riff Raff weir. As I drove through Shalford village en route to Godalming later in the day it was good to see the local Swifts back and screaming low over the village green.
Grey Wagtail

8th May

A very enjoyable three hours on the patch this morning in blustery conditions. The Swifts didn't mind though, with at least 20 through during my visit, plus a couple of Sand Martins and Swallows. Seven species of Warbler were singing including my first Lesser Whitethroat rattling away in the Broadford/Horse Field area, at one point in the same Blackthorn bush as a Common Whitethroat, a Blackcap and a Reed Warbler. The latter were particularly in evidence today with at least four singing around the patch. There were also at least four Sedge Warblers and five Garden Warblers singing, the latter my highest count of this species this year so clearly there are still new birds coming in.

The Lesser Whitethroat took my patch year list to 99. No sooner had I begun to ponder whether I'd hit 100 today and what species would bring up the century I picked up a Common Tern flying north along the river - strangely the very same species that took me to a hundred in 2016 as well! The total Shalford year list now stands at 102.

Also of note this morning were Kestrel and Hobby hunting over Broadford Marsh, 11 Mallard ducklings, three Lesser Black-backed Gulls north and a pair of Grey Wagtails at St Catherine's.

After a non-birding trip down into West Sussex in the afternoon the lure of the Turtle Dove found by Rich Ford in Haslemere proved too tempting and I made a little diversion on the way home to see it. It was wonderful to find it in a tree in the garden of Imbhams Farm, and hear it singing occasionally. Of note here were also a Spotted Flycatcher and a Garden Warbler. Turtle Dove and Spotted Flycatcher in the same field of view in Surrey - not something you see every day! Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me though so you'll just have to use your imagination...

No more Surrey birding for me for a few days now as I'm off to Sardinia in the morning with my girlfriend. Expect lots of photos and a blog about that trip soon!

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