Sunday, 29 April 2012

And Yet More Rain

28th April - The weather looked promising for some passage waders, terns and gulls today, with the wind apparently switching towards easterly, though it was more north easterly.  I made an early morning visit and sat through almost persistent drizzle until 9am but got little reward.

The only passage seen was 2 summer plumaged Dunlin that flew in about 8:30am and landed briefly on the near spit for a matter of seconds before taking off.  They did a couple of circuits looking like they might land a few times, but in the end were last seen in the NE corner and probably departed that way - their black bellies were very obvious in flight.  A Common Sandpiper was possibly yesterday's bird.

4 Shelduck were present on my arrival, which were new in and looked to be all females.  Later in the morning, a further pair arrived from the south west and joined them.  The male indulged in much display and made the rest of the group quite flighty.  Hirundines were over the lake in good numbers - mainly Swallows, but House and Sand Martins well represented too.  Double figures of Swifts were also around though a little higher up.

A quick trip to the meadow, railway bank and paddocks found little else, though yesterday's Reed and Garden Warblers were still present in the same areas.

The black-ringed adult LBB Gull, that Jim R fortunately read yesterday as 3.X6, looks to be a bird ringed in Guernsey (details to follow) and was present in front of the island again.  It appears to be a male of a pair and I wonder if they are or will be local breeders.  They have been present on site for the last 3 days now.

Taken on 26th, when I was struggling to read the ring

Friday, 27 April 2012

Warblers Sing in the Sunshine

27th April - a quick visit this afternoon before school athletics club.  I had received a text from Dave P informing me of several birds on site, 2 of which were year ticks.

A Common Sand was working its way around the spit along with an LRP busily running backwards and forwards, but I made my way round to the railway bank.  I checked the meadow en route, which yielded little apart from 6 Blackbirds flying in and out of the railway hedge.  As I walked towards the 'reed warbler' reed bed in the centre of the southern bank, I could hear my first quarry singing away from the hedge - a Garden Warbler - year tick number 1.  As I attempted to see the bird, year tick number 2 started singing from the reed bed - a Reed Warbler.  These were the 2 birds Dave P had informed me about.  Then, as I waited to see the Reed Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat started rattling away just behind me in the same hedge as the Garden Warbler - year tick number 3!  I eventually got reasonable views of all 3 birds and it was nice to enjoy them in a bit of sunshine and warmth for once - maybe the sun brought out the songsters?

From the southern bank, I scoped the gulls on the spit and noticed a 2cy Great Black-backed Gull.  The first one here for a while and getting quite late, continuing the recent run of gulls that are obviously moving through the site.  I did a quick count of the loafing LWHG to see if my recent estimates were fair and counted 117 birds - so about right.

A Hobby zipped over from the sw being harassed by a Jackdaw and quickly departed.  On my return to the car, I noticed a Moorhen sitting in a nest in a willow overhanging the lake, probably about 7 feet above the water - hopefully not too high for the youngsters when they eventually leap down.

A Lull

26th April - I was hoping that the forecasted heavy showers might bring some birds in today, but the wind was too westerly and in the end a bit of a dull visit.

There were no waders on site at all, except for a few Lapwing and Common Tern numbers were down - 9 being my highest count.  Swifts were obviously on the move, with many noted during my visit and in the afternoon, during a sunny break between heavy rain bands, I counted 21 together, but many more would have been through.  Following the Swifts, my first Hobby of the year circled up northwards along the eastern bank.

LWHG continued to provide some interest - only about 80 on site at any one time, but 3 colour rings were seen: a 2cy Herring Gull with a red darvic, a 3cy Herring with a white darvic and a paired adult LBB Gull with a black(ish) darvic.  Unfortunately, only the white ring was read when Dave P turned up with a 60x lens - I must get a longer lens! Details awaited.

On arrival, I also saw what I'm pretty sure was a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull.  It was only on site for  a few minutes before flying off and my one record shot shows the bird mostly obscured.  It stood out as having an obviously white as opposed to pale square-shaped head, dark streaking around the eye and a large broad-based and blunt-tipped bill.  The tertials were all dark centred and the coverts were dark and diffuse.  When it flew off, it showed a white tail and a black tail band and an upper wing pattern that I always think of as intermediate between LBBG and Herring and showing only a small primary window.  However, the scaps look a little pale and well-marked in this shot.  Again, open to comments.

The bird at the back!

Passage Terns

25th April - a very wet morning giving way to heavy showers in the afternoon saw a large movement of terns and Little Gulls along the Severn/Wash fly way, with many seen in our region, especially during the afternoon and evening.

I got a text from Dave P around midday saying he had 11 Arctic Terns on the pit.  I couldn't leave until after lunch - which was not going to be long, but got another text shortly afterwards to say that they had gone - birds were obviously on the move.

I arrived at about 12:30pm and sat in the car while a heavy shower went through and then joined a damp Dave P and Mick M at the western bench - a brolly was essential birding gear in this weather!  We scanned the pit and southern tree line looking for birds arriving off the river.  At about 12:50pm I noticed a small dark tern flying along the southern bank of the pit towards the SE corner - a lovely summer plumaged Black Tern that had obviously just arrived!  It proceeded to flying backwards and forwards along the eastern side of the lake.  Whilst this was going on, texts were coming in all the time about Arctic Terns and Little Gulls being seen in good numbers arriving and departing various sites just to the north of us.  Optimistic of joining in with this movement, we kept watch until the school run beckoned at 3pm, but no further joy - perhaps just a little too far south from the fly way.  A tight flock of 5 Common Terns was seen to descend to the lake and continue high eastwards, so they were obviously moving as well.

Mid afternoon, I noticed a pale alba wagtail working its way along the near bank of the spit.  I'm never too quick to call White Wagtail, as I've seen quite a few pale-looking female Pieds in the past.  On scrutiny, however, this bird showed pale, clean flanks below the brownish tinged wings, a pale grey smudge to the sides of the breast with a white line bordering the black bib, a clearly demarcated black cap from the pale grey mantle and more importantly, the pale grey extending to the rump and upper tail - so a classic White Wagtail.

Later, a 3cy gull caught my eye, that showed a very dark grey mantle, approaching LBB Gull in colour.  I put the other observers onto it and we pondered its ID.  I thought that it was probably a Yellow-legged Gull, though it's getting a bit late for them.  I grabbed a couple of record shots when it walked out on the spit, though the mantle shade appears lighter in these than it did in the field.  The head and bill shape look good for YLG - the bill being particularly broad based and blunt-tipped looking very yellow with the large red gonys spot showing through the black terminal band.  It also shows a reddish orbital ring and some red on the gape line.  On the closed wing, the outer greater coverts look a little Herring Gull like, showing evenly spaced spotting, though the inner coverts are more diffuse - this shows better on the open wing and is also better for YLG.  Many of the juvenile median coverts had been replaced with grey. The tail was white contrasting with a neat black tail band and the grey mantle and the under tail coverts had just a few sparse spots around the sides.  The legs were beginning to show a pale yellow colour, particularly on the front of the tarsus, which just about shows on the photos.  The eye was dark, but it is immature and I have seen older YLG than this show a dark eye.  In flight, the wing looked OK for YLG and also showed a smaller primary 'window' than I would expect on Herring Gull. So I concluded that this was indeed a 3cy Yellow-legged Gull, but I'm open to comments.

Grey mantle appears lighter than in the field

Open left wing just showing - note the yellowish legs starting to appear

Reddish orbital ring a red in the gape line
The gulls flew at about 2:30pm and Dave P commented 'I've got a Yellow-legged Gull'.  I assumed he meant the bird above, but in fact he had found a cracking adult bird - another unexpected bird.  It was more distant and in the poor light, a blurred record is below.  It had incredibly yellow legs and was a full summer bird, though the bill had a small dark line towards the tip, which was also pale.  It was a big bird (compare to the nearby LBBG), so probably a male.

There were probably around 100 LWHG on site - many immatures - and judging by the birds above and the number of different colour-ringed birds being seen, many are moving through the site.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

More CR Gulls

25th April - a couple of colour-ringed gulls from Saturday 21st have been reported back.

A 2cy Herring Gull with a red darvic ring was present late morning and I assumed that it was likely to be LX3T seen previously, but Mick M who was present later in the day read it as WX3T.  Obviously ringed during the same session as the other gull at Pitsea Landfill, Essex on March 10th.  A map of the sighting is here:

There was also a 3cy Herring Gull present with a dark blue darvic with pale pink/faded orange KCL.  This fitted the combination of a gull from Gloucester Landfill - I had previously seen an adult LBB with such a ring, coded GEY.  Sure enough, it was ringed there as a 1st year on 25th September 2010.  It had a further 5 sight records from the same site, last seen on 13th July 2011.  This is the first record away from the landfill.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

One Throat or Two?

22nd April - an early morning visit today found a Sedge Warbler singing on arrival.  It was in willow and bramble by the lake edge just north of the bench on the west side and only my second this year.

None of the hoped for waders appeared, probably because it was sunny and cold - just above freezing.  Yesterday, I had missed a Whimbrel by a few minutes, that had only landed for a matter of minutes following a short shower, before continuing northwards.  I had received a text from Alan S at 15:36 while I was cutting a hedge, decided that I had a good chance of connecting, so jumped in the car and inevitably received a further text en route at 15:42 saying it had gone.  I reckon it takes about 10 minutes door to lake side, so another unlucky dip.

I visited the meadow and after crossing the rail track heard a Whitethroat singing about 100 yards to the west up the track.  A new bird for the year, so I walked towards it for a view and watched it singing and working its way eastwards along the track side.  Nothing much else of note, so I walked back across the track and along the southern path.  A Whitethroat was singing about 100 yards ahead of me - I pondered whether this was another bird, or the same one moving slightly quicker than me.  As I walked towards it, it carried on moving eastwards towards the south east corner, so may well have been the same bird on the move.

On the north bank, a male Mandarin flew from the workings and splash landed very close to me before taking off again.  This may well be the same bird I had seen at the same time and place last Sunday.

So a few new arrivals - can't be long before some waders appear.

Friday, 20 April 2012


20th April - I made a quick stop this afternoon before the school pick-up and found Stan B by the bench who said that he had had a Cuckoo calling 15 minutes earlier.  A few minutes later and right on cue, it started up again, calling from the north eastern side.  This is a fairly typical arrival date for me for Cuckoo and always a nice bird to hear in Spring.

Yesterday evening, Mick M, Alan S and myself found a 2cy Herring Gull with a red darvic on its left leg.  After a bit of effort through Mick's 60x lens, we eventually read it as LX4T.  This fits the coding and colour of the North Thames Gull Group and they have replied saying that the gull was ringed at Pitsea Landfill on March 10th, just under 6 weeks ago.  A map is shown here:

Doe a Deer

20th April - an early morning visit and a welcome sunny morning after the wet weather of late.  The lake was clouded in mist initially, but lifted to reveal 2 Common Sandpipers on the end of the spit and 6 Common Terns.  There never seem to be large numbers of these first thing on the lake and many are fishing along the river at this time.

A walk around the pit found no new warblers in - it's getting quite late now and I've only had 1 Sedge briefly and no Reeds or Whitethroats yet!  Hopefully it won't be too long before they are all flooding in.

In the field on the northern side, 3 doe Roe Deer were feeding and seemed little concerned with me.  I have seen a few of these recently and up to 2 velvety antlered bucks.  they have even been in the reeds at the base of the spit.

A single Swallow over the lake was the only hirundine noted - what a difference the weather makes to the numbers of these birds seen.

Forgot to say that there was a fledgling Song Thrush on the path in the SE corner.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Wet Weather Continues

18th April - I made a quick 20 minute visit before work to see if I could emulate yesterday.  If anything, it was even wetter with more persistent rain.  All I could find was 4 Common Terns looking rather soggy on the spit.

An early afternoon visit found a noticeable increase in tern numbers, but all I could find were Commons.  My highest count when I arrived was 18 and by the time I left it had peaked at 22, so obviously still some movement.

Just before I left, many of the terns started to land on the near spit and eventually 15 had settled with the remaining 7 flying over the eastern side.  I took some record shots of this group and noticed in one of the photos that 1 bears what looks like a BTO ring on its right leg - no chance of reading that though.

The bird on the right has a ring

The same bird with the ring is in the middle

Suddenly at 2:45pm, all 15 birds took off in a tight group together with a similar number of Black-headed Gulls and flew towards the southern bank.  I thought that perhaps they had decided to leave ahead of some weather, but then just above me, a Peregrine cruised down the west bank, which explained their reaction.  It continued to the south west corner and then veered westwards over the STW.  It looked to be a sub adult type, with brownish tones to the plumage and some vertical striping to the undersides - a nice year tick, regular but not easy.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Rain Brings in the Terns

17th April - a weather front moved through the region last night and this morning and I was hopeful that the associated rain might bring in some good terns or gulls to the pit.

I arrived at about 9am as the rain was beginning to ease, but I still needed a brolly to avoid getting soaked.  A large pale tern was sitting on the spit in front of the island with six Common Terns - an adult summer Sandwich Tern - a good start and my second here this spring.  I attempted a record shot through the rain and murk and you can just about make it out.

About 5 minutes later and this group of terns took off and departed over the southern hedge, I assume back to the river where they had probably come from.  Shortly later, the rain began to pour again, so maybe they moved off ahead of this.  The Sandwich did not return during the rest of the morning.

3 Yellow Wagtails were also working their way around the spit, which was a year tick.  They remained until the rain stopped, when 2 flew off north followed 5 minutes later by the third.  Again, a poor record shot in bad conditions shows 2 of the 3 birds.

It was now about 9:40am and the weather was showing distinct signs of improving.  I noticed a long-tailed commic tern arrive fairly high from the river in the south-east corner and sure enough it was a nice adult Arctic Tern.  It flew fairly high over the lake on the eastern side and then descended on to the near spit where I was able to grab a couple of reasonable records.  The long projecting tail streamers can be seen as well as the blood red bill, which unusually had a blackish tip.  The ridiculously short legs are hidden by a stick.

The Arctic and many of the Commons appeared to depart to the south about 30 minutes later, presumably going back to the river.  I decided to check the meadow and whilst doing this Mick M phoned to say he was on site.  I walked back across the railway to the lake and noticed an Arctic Tern was back on the spit just as Mick phoned me - I answered 'Have you seen it?' to which he replied, 'I've just had a Short-eared Owl in the south-east corner being mobbed by hirundines, but I've lost it!'  What! I quickly went back to the meadow and scanned eastwards, but nothing, back to the lake looking east, nothing.  I made my way back to the bench and Mick and spent the next 30 minutes scanning, but the Owl was not seen again.  The Arctic Tern had taken to flying around the south-east corner with Commons (maximum number seen was 12), so I walked around and got fantastic views to a few yards as it flew backwards and forwards.  I tried some record shots with a hand held - shame I don't have a proper DSLR as it would have been very photogenic.

I carried on around the pit and came across my first Sedge Warbler of the year, a little late, singing in reeds in the north-east corner.

So a productive morning.  The same Arctic Tern was still present at 3pm when I made a quick visit before school pick-up.  However, an Arctic Tern seen in the evening had an obvious broken tail streamer, so is a different bird to this one.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


15th April - I made an early morning visit today.  The spit was devoid of any waders and a walk around the pit found no Sedge or Reed Warblers, though 5-6 Willow warblers had joined the throng of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs.  No wagtails in the paddocks or meadows, but it was pretty cold - only 4-5 degrees.

Best bird of the morning and a year tick was a male Mandarin that flew across the north side of the lake from the east at 7:30am.  I was watching from the north bank so had a good view as it flew across and on over the workings.  I couldn't find it later on the west side so don't know if it landed or not.  Not an easy bird to get at the pit, so a welcome find.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Dipping and Gripping

14th April - weekends are not great for me getting to the patch much, but regular Alan S keeps me updated on any good birds that he sees.  Today at 13:38, I received a text to say that an Osprey had just gone through.  I was in the garden at the time and spent a few minutes watching the sky to see if it might pass through my air space - I have seen a couple in the past 2 years, but both in August, so know they use the valley as a migration route on occasion.  When I found out that the bird appeared to have had a fishing attempt and was seen hovering, I decided to make a quick trip to the pit to see if it might return.  Inevitably it didn't!  However, whilst on site, I noticed that there were a lot of hirundines flying fairly high over the southern bank/meadow and whilst watching these, first 1 Swift appeared and then another - these are my earliest ever Swifts and a good week earlier than I normally see them.

I returned home just in time to get another call informing me of 5 Yellow and 1 White Wagtail in the paddock - ah well, they would have to wait for another day.

Finally, at 19:45, yet another text - this time a female Marsh Harrier that had attempted to roost in the spit reed bed, but had been seen off by the local Jackdaws - aagh!

Great birds for Alan et al, but 2 there that I might not see this year.

Off Patch Migration

13th April - another quick pre-work visit found nothing new on the patch, although Common Terns are now in in some numbers.

On the way home I decided to take a look at a site just over a mile up the hill off Pump Lane, which is also about a mile from home.  I don't watch here regularly, but it is a favoured spot for Whinchat and Wheatear and used to hold Corn Buntings not too long ago.  In fact, a Wheatear and Corn Bunting from the previous day were the reason for my visit.  I walked the path on the west side of Pump Lane and failed to find either.  On the way back up the lane, I decided to look at the horse paddocks on the east side, again a site I have looked at a handful of times in the past.  The first birds I saw were Fieldfare, 4 feeding.  I walked 50 yards down the path and then noticed 2 pale birds in the top corner of the near paddock - a pair of Wheatear.  This was better.  I scanned the paddocks and fences and a few minutes later another couple of Wheatear appeared in the valley. Then suddenly, below me in the valley, I caught sight of a red-tailed bird alighting on the fence - a lovely male Redstart - this was getting even better.  I grabbed some record shots as the bird fed along the exposed fence line.  It was showing extremely well and seemed little concerned with me, though I wasn't moving from my position.  As I watched him working along the fence line, a female Redstart appeared on the ground in the paddock and after sitting on the fence a couple of times flew into the near hedge line.

Conscious of my work commitments, I had to leave, so couldn't give this site a full working over, but put the news out.  Alan S and Mick M were the first people on site not long later and found a further female Redstart, a further Wheatear and a White Wagtail feeding around the horses (wish I'd taken a closer look at the wagtails I'd seen earlier, as I didn't give them a second glance!).  A great morning and a site I shall be checking more regularly in the future!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Still Trickling Through

12th April - a quick post work visit this evening and caught up with the Common Sandpiper that had turned up yesterday.  Common Terns numbers continue to rise and I counted 11 this evening, though Mick M had earlier seen 12.

Terning Up

11th April - a quick pre work visit this morning found 2 Common Terns on the spit and a Little Ringed Plover.  15 minutes later and a further 2 Common Terns had arrived. Little else of note though.

By midday, other observers had increased the Common Tern count to 7, so they were obviously on the move today.  Other sites seemed to be seeing a similar movement.  A Common Sandpiper had also arrived by midday, but that'll have to wait for another time for me.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Flushing Meadows!

10th April - a quick mid morning visit en route elsewhere with kids in tow and still managed a year tick!

2 Common Terns were resting up on the spit and a Willow Warbler was singing on the west bank as we made our way down the west side, over the railway and onto the meadow.  I spied a couple of wagtails at the far side of the western meadow, one of which looked suitably pale grey enough for a closer look.  Sure enough, a nice White Wagtail was happily feeding, allowing a quick record shot just before my daughter managed to become stuck in a muddy pool and fall over, drenching herself and flushing the bird! So we had to bid a hasty retreat to the washing machine.

Hoping for a better record, but this was one of 2 shots taken before it flew off.  You can just about see the concolorous pale grey mantle and rump/upper tail.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Wet, Wet, Wet

9th April - I popped down first thing(ish) to see if the rain had grounded any migrants, but no such luck!

A Common Tern was on the end of the spit along with 2 Little Ringed Plovers.  2 Shelduck flew in and the lone male Wigeon remained.  11 Meadow Pipits were seen - a flock of 10 that alighted and fed on the spit for a few minutes before flying off west and a further single bird.  A flock of hirundines, about 50 birds, were feeding over the lake - mainly Sand Martins, but some Swallows and at least 1 House Martin.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Quick Evening Visit

8th April - I paid a quick visit this evening and joined 4 other locals on site for the last hour of daylight.

Highlight was a Yellow-legged Gull that appeared on the spit in front of the island at c7:30pm.  This is the first of these I have seen here for a while and appeared to be a 3rd winter type or possibly older.  Quite a small bird, so probably female.  The gull roost held about 300 LWHG, split equally between LBB and Herring Gulls, only about 20 Common Gulls and only 2 Black-headed Gulls! How things have changed over the past few weeks.  Otherwise, a single Redshank on the spit was the only other bird of note.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Willow Warbler

7th April - my first visit for a few days and with an overcast and grey morning I was, as ever, optimistic of finding something, but almost as ever, I didn't!

A Willow Warbler was new in for me and I think the first reported at the site this year - it was singing in the SE corner - always a great song to hear for the first time in Spring.

Otherwise, a Common Tern, not present when I arrived, flew in at about 7:20am and settled on the spit and 2 pairs of Shelduck were chasing each other all around the pit.  Wigeon appear to be down to a single male and plenty of hirundines - initially these were feeding over the river, but as the morning progressed they started to move through the lake and north.  A mixture of mainly Sand Martins, some Swallows and the odd House Martin.

A pair of Roe Deer were feeding around the reed bed at the base of the spit when I arrived, including a nice buck with velvety antlers and the pair of foxes also gallivanted around for a while putting up the gulls (mainly Herring) time and again.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Some New Arrivals

3rd April - a morning visit in calm, dry and sunny conditions yielded a few new year ticks.

I arrived on site at about 8:30am and a scan of the pit revealed no waders and no sign of anything new in.  A pair of Shelduck still remained and a male and female Wigeon were still on site - the Wigeon had been down to 2 males a while ago which were then joined by 11 further birds, 6 males and 5 females around March 25th.  These soon departed to leave a single male and a further female now seems to have joined it.

At 8:45am, a Common Tern arrived, presumably coming in off the Thames and began flying and dipping in the SW corner, fairly close to the tern raft.  With no hope of getting a record shot in flight, I left for the meadow in the hope that it might alight somewhere whilst I was gone.  In the western meadow, 8 Fieldfares were feeding and also 2 Rooks in with the Jackdaws, which is a bird that had so far eluded me this year.  In the dried up Spade Oak meadow, I noticed a rather distant pale bird.  Just as I was about to scope it, 2 dogs went charging at a small group of geese, scattering them onto the river - luckily my bird remained in its favoured spot nearby and was quickly identified as a Wheatear.  I took a couple of record shots into the sun before it took flight towards the river.  I didn't see whether it crossed or not, but this meadow is heavily used by dog walkers, so I expect it moved on fairly quickly.

I crossed the railway back to the lake at about 9:00am to find that the Common Tern had departed, so a lucky encounter.  Along the railway bank, my attention was drawn to some rustling in a leaf/twig pile and I soon noticed what I think is a Bank Vole scurrying around.  It gave a few photo opportunities whilst I wasn't in photo mode and when I was, it became camera shy.  This is the best I could manage.

The pile

The vole
Other than a couple of Sand Martins and a Swallow in the SE corner, the only other thing of note was a build up of Blackcaps since my last visit - I counted 12 birds, with 11 singing males and a female.

I popped back briefly at about 2pm to find no real change, except a build up of immature LWHG on the spit and then left.  Dave F paid a visit less than an hour later and found what is presumably the same 2w Iceland Gull that was last seen here on March 11th - ah well, you can't see them all!