Saturday, 31 March 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes

31st March - a change to cooler and cloudier weather and the hirundines arrive.

I made a late afternoon visit and joined Alan S and Mick M who had been watching a steady passage of Sand Martins and Swallows moving north through the site all afternoon, estimated at 400 Sand Martins and 20 Swallows.  During my 90 minutes on site I certainly saw over 100 Sand Martins and at least 10 Swallows and also a single House Martin that flew through at 5pm.

On the spit a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and a Redshank were still present along with a single male Shelduck.  Another year tick arrived in the form of 2 Linnets that flew in from the south and landed on the spit.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

At last a Sand Martin!

29th March - still little change, but I watched a Redshank fly on to the spit at 9am and 3 Shelduck, a pair plus a further male, were also present.  No sign of any LRPs though.

At last, certainly later than I would expect, 2 Sand Martins appeared fairly high up over the eastern side of the lake.  I watched them for a few minutes before they departed.

I noted an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at the back of the spit with a dark blue darvic ring with orange lettering, which was possibly 'GEY' seen previously, but there was no chance of reading it in the heat haze.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Same Old......

28th March - my early afternoon visit was a bit like groundhog day, with the sun continuing to beat down and little in the way of passage.

Presumably one of yesterday's LRPs was along the near edge of the spit, so I grabbed some record shots through a bit of heat haze.  A circuit of the lake found 4 Blackcaps, 3 singing males and a female, so warblers are still trickling through.  The sky held large numbers of Red Kites and Buzzards as you would expect, but that was it for today.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A Slow Start....

27th March - another gloriously sunny and warm day, but this seems to have stalled sightings of summer migrants!

Highlight of the morning was the first Little Ringed Plover of the year, which appeared briefly on the back of the spit and promptly disappeared.  Two were showing well this evening, seen by Alan S and Mick M.  Another Redshank was also present, generally on the back of the spit while I was there.  Still no hirundines - maybe tomorrow!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Too Sunny for Migrants!

23rd March - a glorious day, but no sign of any summer migrants.

A Redshank was new in on the spit and a Little Egret was in the eastern paddock before flying to a bush in the bay near the workings.

I was pleased to see the nasal saddled female Tufted Duck again on the north eastern side.  It was still tricky to read the code as I was looking into the sun, but at least it wasn't asleep this time!  Eventually it came close enough to confirm that it is the same female that was present last October, BFK.  I have sent off the details and await with interest whether it has been reported between my October sighting and now.  I am pretty sure it has not wintered here, as I think the saddle is obvious enough for it to have been seen.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

White-winged Gull

21st March - a quick visit early afternoon found little of note - still no hirundines or LRP for me.

The regular pair of Shelduck were in the NW bay along with a fine summer plumaged Little Grebe, always nice to see.  Several singing Chiffchaffs, but down on numbers from yesterday and a silent male Blackcap on the western side.

As I was about to leave, I picked up a gull with white wings flying in front of the island and towards me, but gaining height.  Rather than a genuine white-winged gull, it was actually a leucistic Black-headed Gull, but quite striking nonetheless.  It had no black in the plumage at all, but showed some pale ghosting of a dark cheek spot and a terminal tail band.  There was some restricted very pale brown coloration on the upperwing, but these were essentially pale grey/white.  As it circled overhead, the primaries appeared gleaming white, much as a Med Gull, but it continued westwards over the STW and was unfortunately not seen on deck.  The terminal tail bar marking suggests that this is a 2cy bird as opposed to an adult.  Leucistic Black-headed Gulls are apparently not uncommon and I can think of some very white looking adults that have been recorded not too far from here, but this is the first I have noticed on site.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Some Spring Movement

20th March - I missed Oystercatcher and Sand Martin over the weekend but found some new arrivals today, though not very exciting.

I counted 8 singing Chiffchaffs around the pit and it was nice to hear Blackcap song again, with a male singing along the railway hedge.  Whether this is a genuine migrant or an over winterer on the move, who knows, but it was a patch year tick for me.  Meadow Pipits were much in evidence, with a small party of 14 birds foraging in the meadow and a steady trickle of a further 18 birds all moving NW.  The meadow also held a flock of 33 Fieldfares with 3 Mistle Thrushes mixed in.

As I walked to the eastern bank, I noticed that a female Tufted Duck near the bay by the workings sported a green nasal saddle.  I had seen such a bird in the Autumn for a single day only on October 26th.  It had been ringed at St Philbert de Grand Lieu just south of Nantes about 400 miles south of Little Marlow on 1st December 2010.

Last year's bird
The green saddle is actually faded blue!  Whether today's bird was the same, I'm not sure, as it spent pretty much all of its time with its bill in its back.  When I did catch a glimpse, the side code did appear to be FK, but I'm not certain.  The plumage certainly looked similar, but then it's a female tufty!  I hope that it stays so that the code can be confirmed - if it is the same, I wonder where it spent the Winter, as I am not aware that it has been reported since last October.

Friday, 16 March 2012

And now a Rock Pipit!

16th March - Somewhat surprisingly, I received a text this morning to say that the Sandwich Tern was still present and then at about 11:30am Dave P called to say that a pipit had just walked into view on the spit and he was going for his long lens to get a better look.  Shortly afterwards he called again to confirm that this was a Scandinavian Rock Pipit!

I arrived on site early afternoon to find that the pipit was still present, but the tern seemed to have departed.  The pipit was fairly distant and associating with a couple of Pied Wagtails and a couple of male Reed Buntings and occasionally went missing in the longer grass.  It gave the impression of being dark olive above, but with a greyer head, whilst the underparts were dark streaked across the breast and flanks and had a buffy pink wash to them.  It had a restricted pale supercilium and a pale eye ring and an indistinct pale wing bar.  It bobbed its tail quite a bit and was flighty at times - at one point it flew off fairly high with the wagtails, but then returned.  Record shots were extremely difficult due to the distance and low light levels and a couple of very poor ones are shown here, but it gives you some idea:

At about 2:15pm, the Sandwich Tern appeared again, flying around the eastern end of the pit and performing a couple of plunge dives.  It then settled on the back of the spit amongst the gulls and was still there when I left for the school pick up.

Thursday, 15 March 2012


15th March - I was returning from a belated but successful twitch to the Yellowthroat when I received a text from Alan S saying that he had had a Sandwich Tern flying around the pit but couldn't currently find it.  Fortunately, I was only about 15 minutes away, so was soon on site.  Alan had still not seen the tern again, so I was fearful that it might have flown straight through.  Then, as I scanned the near spit, there it was, a fine Sandwich Tern, fantastic!  It appeared to be having a well-earned rest and often had its eyes shut with bill slightly drooping.  The surrounding gulls seemed fairly settled and so did the tern, apart from a brief flight when it returned quickly to the spit.  However, this time it landed over the brow of the spit and only the head was visible from the bench.  Jim R arrived and saw the bird in this position and shortly afterwards Alan left.  At about 4:30pm, the tern was lost from view and presumed to have walked out of sight, so Jim and I walked towards the SW corner to get a better view of the back of the spit - no tern was viewable - had it flown without being noticed?  Then, absolutely everything flushed into the air - gulls, ducks, the lot!  And they weren't coming back to the spit, many seeming to depart the site.  We couldn't find anything that may have caused this until a large red hot air balloon loomed into view over the southern bank - thanks a lot guys!

Whilst watching the tern with Alan, an adult Med Gull flew in fairly close and settled in the water just beyond the near spit - it was pretty much in full summer plumage, a lovely bird.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

First Summer Med

14th March - a quick visit this morning to check for Spring migrants and in cold conditions none were to be found.

I picked up a 1st summer Med Gull in flight around the SW corner, with its distinctive bandit mask.  It was carrying something in its bill and being chased by a horde of Black-headed Gulls.  Eventually, it landed on the near spit where the other BHG were congregated and dropped what looked like a stick.  It only remained for about 5 minutes and then seemed to depart to the north.  I don't usually see this age of Med Gull this time of year, they are often adult or sometimes 2nd summer, but this is their passage period.

Comparison to 2cy BHG

The regular Bar-headed Goose was also back on the spit with a few Greylags following its winter migration to the Jubilee River at Marsh Lane near Dorney.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Dutch LBB Gull

13th March - a quick visit this afternoon found an oddly ringed adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.  It was on the closest part of the spit to the west bank so could be seen easily.  It had a white darvic ring with red 'BK' above the knee on the left leg together with an ankle metal ring and a black darvic above the knee on the right leg.  A quick search of the colour ringing website found this to be a Dutch ringed bird and a quick response confirmed that it was ringed on 10th May 2011 as a male older than 4th calendar year.  It was ringed in Maasvlakte (Yangtzehaven), which is on the Hook of Holland near The Hague, about 210 miles ENE from here.  It was also recorded at the pit on March 5th by LGRE.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

White Wingers Continue

11th March - Only a quick visit this evening to take in some of the gull roost.  I arrived after 5:30pm and left shortly after 6pm and joined four other locals already on site.

It is surprising how distinctive the head of a 2w Iceland Gull is - I noted the domed head, two tone dull pink and black bill and pale iris on this bird sticking out of the gull roost on the back of the spit.  This is probably 200 yards plus away.  It was head on, so none of the body was visible until a sudden movement of the birds revealed it in all its glory.  It then proceeded to walk left and then flushed to the front of the island where it showed well.  This looks to be the same bird that was present last Sunday.  The 2w present last Monday was described as having a dark eye, but the pale iris on this bird is very obvious even at distance, so I assume Monday's bird was a different individual.

Shortly after this, an adult Mediterranean Gull appeared in the water beyond the spit.  Judging by the almost full black hood with some white spotting above the bill, this may well be the same individual that has been noted on several dates recently.  So quite a productive 30 minutes.

Friday, 9 March 2012

First Redshank drops in

9th March - my first Redshank of the year was on the spit this afternoon.  I heard it calling as I arrived when it was walking on the top of the spit with Lapwing.  Later it started feeding around the spit edge.  Otherwise not much change, although I was unable to make the gull roost again.  The pair of Shelduck remained and Reed Buntings are becoming more obvious - 4 birds noted today, with 3 flying over and another male in a reed bed.
First of the year

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Birding with a Brolly

7th March - popped down for a quick visit when I thought the rain had passed through - unfortunately it was only a lull!

Still no migrant waders - I would have thought both Redshank and Oystercatcher would have been through by now.  A Little Egret on the base of the spit was only my second this year and Shelduck numbers had once more risen to 3, with a pair plus a further male.  I had to leave before the gull roost had started to build, so that will have to be left to someone else - with 2 Med Gulls, a Glaucous and probably 2 different Iceland Gulls over the last 3 nights, there should be something to see here at the moment!

Of interest, details of the adult Lesser Black-backed Gull with orange darvic KB3T noted on Saturday can be found here.  Interesting to see that it was recorded at this site in 2010 as well.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Quiet Morning

6th March - quite cold this morning, but reasonably bright.  None of the hoped for migrants and little of note.

I walked a circuit around the lake.  In a reedbed in the NE corner, my attention was drawn to some noisy movement of the reeds.  A Water Rail was walking around, feeding and paid me little attention.  I tried a record shot and was surprised to get a semi-recognisable image through the mass of stems.


I also got a year tick with a Little Grebe in the bay next to the workings.  Nothing else was noted in the walk around the northern perimeter until a small digger flushed a Green Sandpiper from the small stream next to the entrance road.  It flew off towards the STW calling as it went.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Gull Bonanza

4th March - a very wet day, raining from morning until late afternoon. Some time after 4pm, the rain eased and I decided to get some air and visit the pit.

On arrival, there were obviously a lot of gulls on site and they were covering much of the spit.  Rubbish at estimating the flock size of these birds, but maybe 6-8,000 birds.  These comprised mainly Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, but there were probably 100-200 LWHG present this evening.

The spit turns white

There's an Iceland and Glaucous Gull in this shot!
Having had a quick scan of the gulls and not picked up anything of note, I noted a Dunlin running around on the near side of the spit.  I then started to scan the gulls again and noticed a very white Iceland Gull on the near spit, probably the closest point to me.  I moved to the viewpoint for a record shot and noted a pale eye and dark banded pink bill with a small pale tip - a 2w bird, but with relatively little grey in the mantle.

I texted the news out and almost immediately found a 1w Glaucous Gull on the spit in front of the island.  I took a poor record shot, as my camera doesn't like low light levels.  I think that this bird looks to have a slightly differently proportioned bill to the bird I saw last month and might well be a different individual.

The patience of my long suffering son had given up by this stage, so I did not have time to check the rest of the roost for Meds or anything else, though a 2w Yellow-legged Gull was reasonably close to the Iceland Gull and a male Shelduck was swimming amongst the gull rafts.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

More Spring Movement

3rd March - I received a call this morning from regular Alan S saying that he had a flighty Curlew on the spit, which had already flown off north but returned.  I was unable to visit until late afternoon and was not optimistic that it would still be there.  So I was pleasantly surprised that when I arrived at 4:30pm, the Curlew was busy preening in the south bay of the spit.  I moved to the viewpoint to take a record shot and some 5 minutes later the bird made several alarm calls, took off and flew north and didn't return, so fortuitous timing.  A fox was roaming the spit scattering the large congregation of gulls, so this may have caused the Curlew to move on.  It looked relatively short billed, so was probably a male and it also had a fairly distinct pale central crown stripe.

distinct pale crown stripe
The gull roost numbered some thousands of birds this evening, with huge numbers of Common Gulls.  I don't like to try and count these, as it seems too difficult, but there must have been around 3,000 Commons this evening.  The number of LWHG is now much reduced, but Jim R managed to find a red darvic ringed adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, code KB3T in front of the island.  This will probably be a North Thames Gull Group bird, as it fits their coding and I have sent off for information.  Jim also located an adult Med Gull at about 5:45pm, which soon lost itself amongst the Common Gulls.  It had quite an extensive black hood, but still had a whitish forehead and various other white spots.  To me it appeared significantly more advanced than the adult last Saturday, but they can change quite rapidly.

As I was leaving, a Tawny Owl called from the field next to the car park and was nicely silhouetted in a tree before flying off to hunt.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Banded Plover

2nd March - a whistle stop visit this afternoon before school pick-up.  Very pleasant conditions and hundreds of gulls.  Unfortunately, I only had time for a quick scan and could not find any scarcities amongst them, but we are now entering the passage period for Med Gulls and possibly Ring-billed Gull, so a longer visit may reap rewards.

As I was about to leave, I found a Ringed Plover on the near shore, which is a sure sign Spring is here (or on the way).  Ringed Plovers are historically one of the first waders to pass through, with February sightings not unusual.  However, in recent years, these early birds have become much scarcer and Ringed Plovers are more often seen in late April/May when the tundra race passes through, often with Dunlin.  This bird also sported a BTO metal ring on its left leg - no chance of reading that though.

A ringed Ringed Plover