Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Ferruginous patch tick

I haven't updated for a few weeks, but there has been some good birding on patch in that time.  I'll probably do a catch up in the next post, but have decided to devote this one to the best bird of the period - a Ferruginous Duck!

On 27th February, I was doing my usual circuit of the lake, having not seen much of note.  I got to the north side and began to scan the edges of the works bay through my scope - there had been a Jack Snipe here late last year and although I didn't see it, the habitat looks nice and one may still be around. At least that's what I was hoping!  I came across a Water Rail running and disappearing into the vegetation and then a small, dark duck swam through my scope showing very white undertail coverts.  Blimey, I thought, this looks good for a Ferruginous Duck!  It was with a small mixed group of Pochard and Tufted Ducks, only about twenty in total, and I'm not sure why I hadn't noticed it before.  I continued to scope it from 100yds or so distance, trying to piece together all the features and eliminate the all too frequent hybrid that seems to turn up.  However, from what I could see, this was looking good.

As is often the case nowadays, a picture speaks a thousand words, so I decided that I needed to get some record shots, both to convince others of the authenticity of the bird and hopefully to save me from having to write a description.  I edged around the lake to get a closer position, doing my best to keep the lakeside vegetation between me and the ducks, so that they wouldn't spook and then began to take some photos.  I was relatively close to the ducks by then and they were aware of me, but they weren't spooked.  They swam past me and then continued down the lake to give themselves more distance, but I had some reasonable records by then.

I continued to watch the Ferruginous Duck as it loafed on the lake amongst its small flock.  A couple of times, it flapped its wings, though I never caught this in a picture.  It had an obvious gleaming white wing bar over the secondaries, but there was some definite off white at least in the outer part of the primaries.  Knowing of the importance of a white wing bar, I thought at this stage that this was a bad feature, and began to think that despite all the other good features, this might point to hybrid genes.  However, as I discovered later, as this was a female and a 1st winter, it is ok to have some off white colour in the outer part of the wing bar, as long as it is not too extensive.

I continued to watch the bird, but it became more distant as it worked its way down the eastern side of the spit.  It actually climbed out onto the bank at one point and I could not see any rings on the legs.  It then continued to the north east side of the main island where it spent the rest of the afternoon.  It was either amongst the overhanging branches or slightly out from them, or standing out on the lower branches.

The weather had deteriorated somewhat by now and its chosen position was about as far from any bank as possible.  I had put news out earlier of my find and my uncertainties over the wing bar and in the end, I was only aware of three other people who came to see it.  Their views were all distant around the island.

My shots of the much closer bird are shown below:

Initial views with two Tufted Duck.  Definitely small enough, with a good looking bill pattern for a female.  The all dark eye shows it is a female and is also another good feature to rule out a hybrid

A quick shake out of the water shows a white under belly covered in dark smudges.  This feature helps to age it as a 1st winter, as an adult would have a clean white belly.  You can also just see a small white spot at the base of the lower mandible, which is another good Ferruginous feature.

One of the better profile shots, shows a good overall shape including a nice peaked crown.  The dark capped effect and lighter areas around the base of the bill and cheek are other immature features.

Another good size comparison with a Tufted Duck - it was a small duck!

The camera did some strange light adjustment here (the water wasn't pale green!), but it does highlight the colouration of the bird.  It has obviously undergone some moult.  The scaps are a nice dark brown, but the pale brown tertials are still juvenile.  The lightest feathers are mid flank, just below the scaps, with the breast and rest of the flanks looking much darker.

A rear shot showing the clean white undertail coverts - these have presumably been moulted too.

So this is the bird as I saw it and I was relatively happy based on the features described that this was a pure 1st winter female Ferruginous Duck.  However, I had a couple of niggling doubts about a couple of the features that I needed to clear up.  I was lucky enough to be able to ask Sebastien Reeber, the author of the latest guide to wildfowl.  The two features I was unsure of were:

1. The bill always looked quite large to me and I wondered if this was a bad feature.
2. On reading the Vinicombe paper about identifying Ferruginous Ducks, it states (as I read it) that juveniles have undergone a moult of the belly by late winter, such that they should have a clean white belly by this stage of the year.  My bird obviously did not have this, so that worried me too.

Sebastien was able to allay my fears and on seeing the photos stated that he didn't see any reason why this bird wasn't a 'good' bird.  In answering my queries:

1. The bill could look a bit strong because the bird might have lost feathers at the bill base as part of its moult.  Also, juveniles often have less dense feathering than adults.
2. Belly feathers aren't replaced as part of the post juvenile or first pre-breeding moults.  They aren't replaced until the first complete moult in the summer.

So with much thanks to Sebastien for considering my bird, I am happy that this is no hybrid and another patch tick!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017


8th February - a pre-work visit this morning turned up a nice male Red-crested Pochard.  They are just about annual here and last year's one and only sighting was also a male in February.  Today's bird, as last year's, favoured the eastern side and I was able to watch it around the works bay area for a bit before it swam away more distantly with the aythya flock.

The other birds on site are much the same as they have been for the past few weeks.  A pair of Shelduck are still present, though there are sometimes three and have been four on one occasion.  Wildfowl numbers are generally back to the pre-freeze levels - I counted the Wigeon yesterday, as there seemed to be quite a few and reached exactly 100 birds.

I haven't been able to do the gull roost recently, which is a shame, as I still need Caspian and Yellow-legged and there have been quite a few white wingers at other sites.  I did see this gull last weekend, which has a lot of Caspian features, but also a few features that didn't seem quite right, such as an overly streaky head and well marked greater coverts, so I still await a more classic looking bird.

I have also decided to include last week's Barnacle Geese in my list.  Although you can never be sure where they originated and the flock size was similar to the Moor Green birds, the Moor Green birds were seen again last weekend and there were 22 birds present.  I think it would be odd for only 21 of the Moor Green birds to visit here and then to reacquire a 22nd bird back at Moor Green, so think it is more likely they came from elsewhere.  Coupled with this, there have been over 100 birds seen at Port Meadow recently, a Thames flood meadow site further up the river.  So unless someone can categorically prove that this flock came from Moor Green, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Barnies, but are they tickable?

On a very cold Thursday last week, in bitter east/south easterlies, Jim R had a flock of 21 Barnacle Geese fly in to the lake.  They landed on the spit briefly, before flying to the riverside meadows and then departed NW and that seemed to be that.  Then at the roost last night, Paul W had the same 21 birds fly in and roost on the frozen ice of the lake.  This morning, I paid a quick visit mid morning and found the birds still stood on the ice.  They stayed there a while, until about 10:30, before taking to the air, flying around a bit and then off east.  However, shortly later they returned following some Greylags in and ended up grazing on the spit.  They were still present this afternoon and were seen flying off to the river meadows late afternoon.

Barnacle Geese are always tricky when listing is concerned, however, a large flock in Winter following freezing conditions does seem a whole lot better than a singleton in the middle of summer, which is how I usually see them.  There are some sustainable category C flocks that these birds could have come from, they could even have been pushed over from the continent.  However, there is also a similar sized flock in the Moor Green area in Berks that are from an untickable population deemed not self sustaining.  To my knowledge, these birds are almost always in that area, but on reading a report on this population in the 2005 Berks Annual Report, it stated that exceptionally in the winter of 2006, 45 birds from this population were traced to a flock in Ibsley, Hants in Jan/Feb.  So it is possible that they may have wandered here.  They were at Moor Green last weekend, but I don't think have been seen there since, though they are not always seen at the reserve itself.  From my perspective, I would be tempted to count them on flock size, winter conditions and time of year, but I guess being prudent, the Moor Green birds need to be seen again concurrently with this flock before that happens.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Slow and steady start to 2017

2017 has started pretty much as 2016 finished.  I have birded the patch fairly steadily when time and weather have allowed and as of today am on 73 species for the year.  There are still some easy gaps, but I have managed to miss two good birds so far - a male Goldeneye that was around on the 5th, which happened to be my first day back in the office after Christmas, and probably more galling, a calling Brambling around the cottages yesterday, whilst I was oblivious just a 100 yards or so away.

There haven't been any other surprises recorded to date and my best bird of the month so far is probably the nice adult Med Gull that appeared in the roost on the 14th.  Unfortunately, it was right on the east side of the spit, so too far away to get sort of record shot.  The two male Shelduck have been present throughout, though intolerant of each other and always apart, and represent my best duck of the month at the moment.

I have, at long last, upgraded my camera and so intend to post many more photos of birds that I wouldn't even have attempted to take with my old set up.  I am still getting used to it, but am enjoying the better opportunities it brings.  So below are some of the usual suspects that are around at the moment.

Yesterday, I had a nice amble around the farmland at Emmett's and these are some of the birds I saw:

 And finally, the lake has largely frozen with the recent cold nights, which has brought the gulls out onto the ice:

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Annual Round-up

It's been a while since I posted anything, but that is a reflection of the poor December I had combined with the usual lack of birding over the Christmas break.  In fact, I failed to add another year tick after the 8th of November.

For completeness, the main bird of note in the month was the adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, that continued its week long stay from the end of November and was generally to be found grazing on its own in the field just to the north of the lake.  It was last seen on December 4th.  As is usual at this time of year, a Shelduck reappeared on the 5th, the first sighting since June, and was joined by a second bird from the 11th.  They have both been present ever since and will no doubt stay for a while.

Otherwise, the male hybrid Pochard x Ferruginous Duck was usually to be found amongst the aythya flock near Works Bay; Little Egret numbers took a small boost, with 8 - 10 birds often found in the Works Bay area - still hoping for another appearance of a Great White!; Snipe numbers on the spit rose steadily and reached highs in the mid 50s; an immature Peregrine has become relatively regular, usually just flying through and scaring everything, but occasionally perching up temporarily.  And that really is about it......

And so to my reflections on the year.....numbers-wise, it wasn't dissimilar to the past few years, just a few species down at 133.  There were a higher number of missed species than usual, so 2016 could very easily have been a record year for me.  The year began with a bad miss, a drake Ring-necked Duck, which was present on the afternoon of the January 2nd whilst I was away from home for the first time over the Christmas break with the family in Oxford.  Brief fly throughs of Merlin and Goshawk were never gettable.  An adult Kittiwake came in to the gull roost in early March whilst I was cooking dinner.  Holidays and work cost me a few, a Curlew at the end of March, a flock of 13 Sandwich Terns in August and a Ruff in September. And try as I might, I couldn't connect with Barn Owl, probably my easiest miss of the year.  So 133 out of 141 has too many misses for my liking, but I guess that's patch birding for you.

I shouldn't really dwell on the misses though, as there were also many highlights.  I managed to see two new patch ticks with a couple of Brambling in February and the first Little Stint for 10 years in August. There were also some nice scarcities:

January: three Caspian Gulls at the roost on the 23rd, a 1st, 2nd and 3rd winter on the same evening as my only Woodcock of the year, which flew over the car park at dusk.  I was pleased to find Grey Partridge on the farmland again, with up to 5 birds seen.

A juvenile Glaucous Gull came in to roost on the 30th and was last seen here on 11th March, though was never regular and used several roost sites in the area. (I never got any good record shots of it!)

February: Two 1st winter and one or two 2nd winter Caspian Gulls, including the bird below

Three Pintail and a male RC Pochard appeared on the 10th

Med Gulls started to come through on passage, including this adult and 1st winter

Patch ticked two Brambling on farmland on the 22nd feeding with a large finch flock.
March: The highlight was a drake Garganey on the 23rd

Several more Med Gulls passed through, with at least two adults, a 2nd summer and a 1st winter/summer.

A Siberian Chiffchaff on plumage, though it was never heard calling, took up residence around the small reedbed on the southern bank mid month and was present for about a week.

April:  A flock of six Greenshanks turned up on the 20th, but were always distant

May:  Conditions were good for passage in the second week.  I had 16 Ringed Plover through on the 9th, four Black Terns, an Arctic Tern and an adult summer Little Gull on the 10th, 10 Black Terns, an Arctic Tern and a Whimbrel on the 11th, two Black Terns and an Arctic Tern on the 12th and another adult Little Gull 13th and 14th.

Only my second patch Cetti's Warbler was found on the 13th and remained for several weeks.

June:  Return Black-tailed Godwits started passing through from the 29th.  I saw these two on the 30th.

Yellow-legged Gull passage was light this year, a 2nd summer appeared on the 7th, followed by a few adults.

July:  A Whimbrel was on the spit briefly on the evening of the 21st

A female Pied Flycatcher was discovered in the SE corner on the 27th and remained there for 3 days! Only my second patch record. (very hard to digiscope!)

August:  My fist fully juvenile Caspian Gull on the 11th, originally mis-identified as a YL Gull

A juvenile Little Stint, the first for 10 years and a patch tick for me on the 12th

Four Black Terns on the 28th, with one staying a while

September:  two Redstarts and a small passage of Whinchats through the month, including this one

An early adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose on the 18th, only my second patch record

An early Jack Snipe on the 23rd

October:  A passage Pintail on the 3rd.  A small passage of Stonechats, including this nice male

A 1st winter male Scaup on the 24th for a week was only my third patch record

November:  One of at least two 1st winter Yellow-legged Gulls on the 2nd.

A 2nd winter Caspian Gull on the 6th, my only Goldeneye and Goosander were seen on the 8th, while a second adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose for the year flew in on the 28th and remained for a week.

December:  The Dark-bellied Brent Goose remained to the 4th

And so on to 2017..........