Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The first five weeks....

Well I've made a reasonable start to 2018.  January is often a quiet month on patch and can get a bit monotonous as there is generally little movement and we didn't have any good hangers on from 2017 to keep us going.  Once you've checked that no new water fowl have arrived overnight, you tend to look through the same birds that you've seen the day or week before - the gull roost is the exception to this and can provide interest as the scarcer gulls move about - one night there might be a Med Gull, another night a Caspian and I keep checking for the scarcer white-wingers.

Having said this, I've actually had my second best January ever, reaching 79 species by the month-end, only surpassed in 2016 when I had 82.  I'm three ahead of last year at this stage, though it's a bit of swings and roundabouts until Spring passage kicks in.

Best bird by a country mile has been a Whooper Swan.  This adult bird arrived during the afternoon of the 30th.  It had not been seen during my morning round or Alan S's early afternoon round, but was found by Mike M at about 1:30pm.  I couldn't get back to site until 3pm, but found the bird on the far east side of the spit swimming up towards the works bay.  This is about as far away from any lake edge that you can get and coincidentally is exactly the area chosen by a family party of Bewick's Swans back in December 2010.  There were obvious assumptions being made that this was the same adult bird of unknown origin that had graced the patch almost daily from late June last year until early/mid October when it disappeared.  However, even though I could only get distant record shots, the appearance of both birds seems different, most notably the pattern of yellow on the bill and the shape of the bill.  Whilst watching the swan, it was also interesting to note how alert, yet tired, it seemed: alert in that it was constantly swimming with upright neck, but also kept closing its eyes as if trying to rest.  Coupled with the fact that it remained to at least 3:45pm but was not seen the next day or again, here or locally, led me to give this bird the benefit of the doubt.  So a great way to round off January with an ultra rare patch bird (I'm not even sure that it was on the site list!) and a patch tick.

Heavy crop, as distant

Even heavier crop to show detail of bill
Last year's bird for comparison. Note the apparent differences in bill pattern and structure
The gull roosts that I have done have only been rewarded with scarcer gulls on two occasions and that is despite there being upwards of 6,000 gulls to look through.  Most of these are generally split between Black-headed and Common Gulls, but there are also around 1,000 large gulls to sift through and in excess of 100 Great Black-backed Gulls, which are still coming in in good numbers at the moment.  An adult Yellow-legged Gull came in late on Jan 6th (we generally do much better for these in June/July) and two Caspian Gulls were seen on Jan 13th, a striking brute of a 1st winter, undoubtedly male and a more petite adult, which may well have been the bird I saw back in December.  I didn't manage photos of any of these as the light and distance were against me!

Other good January birds were a Dunlin on the 9th.  I watched this bird fly in to the spit mid morning, though there were apparently three birds by mid afternoon, so obviously a few flying around that day; a fly through Peregrine on the 22nd and a Cetti's Warbler on the 30th.  I was particularly pleased to see the Cetti's, as there had been one (and two for a while) around since last summer, but I hadn't seen or heard one since mid December.  I am hoping that with the increased sightings over the past couple of years that they are on the verge of colonising.

Other than that, as I noted at the start, it has been usual January fare.  No unusual ducks yet, though I managed to miss two separate records of Pintail, a four and a two on two dates.  Shelduck probably the best and being seen on most visits, with up to three birds, a pair and a separate male.

I had a nice visit to the farmland part of my patch on 5th Feb and added a further three species for the year.  The game cover has been cut down recently and attracted a large flock of finches.  I watched them flying between the hedgerow and the stubble to feed on fallen seeds.  There were in excess of 150 Chaffinches and amongst them, 2-3 Brambling, about 10 Yellowhammers and a few Reed Buntings.  The usual Winter flock of Linnets was also present and numbered around 90 birds.  It was also nice to see two Grey Partridge following the birds I saw last year.  I think I was a bit harsh on those in not counting them on my list, as even if they have been released, which is not definite, they are at least as worthy as all the Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants that I merrily count each year, so I have upgraded them this year and ought to do a retrospective 'add 1' to last year's total.

I also saw a nice 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull loafing with a group of Herring Gulls on the 5th.  It was rather a smart looking bird, a shame that my record photo is a bit over exposed in the bright sunlight to do it proper justice.

So that's about it so far in 2018.  I'm on 83 for the year, which is my quickest to this total since I started keeping accurate year lists in 2014 (the start of patchwork challenge).  There is still time to get some the scarcer Winter birds before Spring kicks in, but there a few gaps this year - Woodcock is looking doubtful as the regular roosting birds we used to get seem to have deserted since the mass felling of trees on the north side; I haven't come across any wintering Chiffchaffs this year (unusual), which doesn't bode well for picking up Siberian Chiffchaff, which has shown up in three of the last four years; I haven't seen or heard any owls yet, though hopefully at least two species will show up sooner or later - I think Little Owl is no more, unfortunately, my last record on patch was from 2014.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

A review of 2017

2017 has been a great year on patch with 149 species seen in total of which I managed 146.  This is a whole 10 species higher than my previous best of 136 in 2014 and included five patch ticks!

I've tried to capture the best birds below:

21 Barnacle Geese assumed to be part of a cat C population
moving around in the cold weather in late January
Only two Red-crested Pochard records this year - this one in February
A 2w Med Gull in February - fewer records than normal this year
This 1w female Ferruginous Duck appeared on 27th Feb
 - a self found patch tick for me, but still with BBRC
A scarce Brambling in March, only my 2nd on patch
The first of two drake Garganey arrived in March
Arrived during rain on the same day as the 1st Garganey in March
and stayed for only 5 minutes. Third record in 2 years, but still rare here
These two Little Gulls came through in late March
Surprisingly, my only Arctic Tern record of the year - in mid April
April 20th and this fantastic pair of Black-winged Stilts remained
all day for me to see them after work - not surprisingly a patch first

Conditions were right on April 30th for this Black Tern to pass through.
Two Little Terns and a Temminck's Stint also appeared that day,
all seen but not photographed.
More Black Terns passed through early on May 1st
My only Redstart was a late female in mid May
A summer plumaged Little Stint in mid May was just my second on patch - rare!
This pair of beauties in early June were just my second on patch

Mandarins are never easy here, but this female stayed a month during its moult
Yellow-legged Gulls started to appear in small numbers
post breeding in June, but numbers were down this year.
An unringed adult Whooper Swan arrived in late June and remained
until early October. Its origin is unknown, but I did not count it as suspected
 a feral bird.
An unexpected visitor was this drake Scaup in early July

By the end of July when it departed, it was looking quite tatty
For the second year running, Reed Warblers raised a Cuckoo.
It could be found in July calling loudly for its food.
My only Greenshank was in early August
I watched three Sandwich Terns arrive on Aug 6th. 
Amazingly, I had another fly through four days later.
This juvenile Spotted Redshank was a brief visitor on Sep 1st.
Another was present a week later - scarce birds here.
Only my second patch Marsh Tit was a surprise find in September
Ravens were much in evidence in September

Two Ruff in early September were followed by a fly through in October
Thought I'd missed Spotted Flycatcher this year,
until this beauty turned up on Sep 19th
Two more moulting adult Black Terns passed through in late September

My find of the year was this Yellow-browed Warbler,
from Sep 27th to Oct 2nd, a site first. Photo copyright Mike Wallen.
A site second Great White Egret was present briefly on a murky mid Oct day
Only one Caspian Gull in the 1st winter period, this 1w in mid Oct
was my second but has been followed by about four others including
an adult and 3w by year-end.
Usually very brief, scarce visitors, three Goosander stayed for 2 weeks
from late Oct and a further single stayed until late Nov 
Three Pintail were present for a day in late Oct and a further five
for a day in late Nov
Further good birds that weren't photographed included an Osprey that flew through in late March; a reeling Grasshopper Warbler briefly in late April was only my second on patch; a fly through Curlew in early August; a Firecrest in the same bush as the Yellow-browed Warbler in late September was only my second on patch; a single Hawfinch over south in October, followed a week later by a superb flock of ten birds over low south east were my second and third patch records; a patch tick fly through Merlin in early December and lastly a Jack Snipe in mid December.

So a great year in 2017, the pictures bringing back some fantastic memories.  Hopefully 2018 will be equally as good.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The end of 2017

Apologies for the lack of recent updates on this blog, I hadn't realised that my last post was so long ago!
Well 2017 has come to end as far as patch birding goes and I have finished on 146 species out of a total patch list of 149, completely smashing my previous best of 136.  My only misses this year have been Goldeneye, with just a single record way back on Jan 5th; two Cranes that were reported flying from or over the lake in May by local resident Steve Backshall; and a fly through Marsh Harrier on Oct 13th, so pretty good really.

I added two more species (though saw three!) since my last update in November, though November itself was a blank month and my only blank month of the year.  The first of these was Merlin, which is also a patch first for me and extremely scarce here nowadays.  I had been watching the gull roost on the December 2nd and just given up as the light was fading and making my way up the west bank when the distinctive silhouette of a Merlin flew low south down the west bank just a few yards from me.  I've no idea if this was a local bird that had been hunting the fields and was looking for a place to roost or just a lucky fly through, but whichever, it was a great addition to the list.  There were reports of possible Merlin on subsequent days, but nothing was confirmed.

The second and last addition to the year was on December 11th when I found a Jack Snipe huddled up on the spit along with 54 Common Snipe, though it remained separate to these birds.  It was a nice grip back, having missed a bird seen in January.  I didn't attempt a photo as it was quite distant when I saw it, but it came closer later on and Jim R managed this record shot:

My third new species was Grey Partridge, but as these were a tight flock of 12 amongst the game cover on Emmett's, I presumed that they were released birds and did not count them.  I can't help but think that most of the Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges that are seen and counted are from similar stock though, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh on myself.

I've added a few photos of other notable birds seen in November/December:

Dunlin on Nov 7th
12 of 14 Little Egrets on Nov 13th - good numbers still present
I last saw the regular Goosander on Nov 28th
5 Pintail were present for a single day on Nov 29th

Record of an adult Caspian Gull in the roost on Dec 2nd

A Cetti's Warbler is still around, but doesn't like his picture taken!
I found a nice, dainty adult Yellow-legged Gull in the roost on Dec 12th, but failed to take any photos. Jim R took a record shot here:

A trip to the roost yesterday, the 30th, found a Shelduck just in time for the new year! and still excellent numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls, with 143 counted, but any white wingers will have to wait for 2018.  Paul W had three Caspian Gulls, two 1st winters and a 3rd winter, in the roost on Dec 24th, so hopefully this species won't be too hard next year either.

So that's about it for 2017, an excellent year by all accounts.  I'll post a photographic summary of the highlights shortly.  Here's hoping 2018 is equally as good - or even better!