Monday, 25 November 2013

A couple of yellow-legs

25th November - a brief lunchtime visit, cool and overcast.  One of the first birds I noticed was an interesting looking 1st winter LWHG standing up to its belly just off the near spit.  It was a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull - we don't get a lot of these at this time of year and this is the first of this age since the summer.  I went to the viewpoint to try and grab a record, but I struggled with sharpness in the low light:

Also on the spit was a Dunlin that has been seen on and off over the past week and the continuing Oystercatcher

I could see that the majority of the LWHG and those beginning to fly in, were on the far side of the far spit.  This is partially obscured with vegetation, so I walked around to SE corner so that I could view them.  Funnily enough, amongst these was another 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull, which at first I thought was the original bird having flown over, but when I walked back, that was still in its original position, so two 1st winter YLG - nice!  These birds are too far away to get any worthwhile shots.  There were also 5 GBBG, 4 adults and a 2nd winter, so a few more coming in.

I didn't have the time or inclination to count the ducks, but it was obvious that Pochard have increased significantly since my last visit, with birds in their favoured area on the west side and also with the Tufties on the NE side.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Raven on the deck

22nd November - a nice sunny morning with little wind, but a little cold.  The lake and spit didn't hold anything new, so I wandered down to the riverside meadows.  The cattle were standing around on the footpath looking like they were trying to warm up, so not wanting to disturb them, I scanned westwards to see if there were any geese, as there usually are, and maybe something interesting in with them.  No geese at all, but quite a few corvids.  A Buzzard flew over them low north and was immediately mobbed and amongst these was a Raven, which briefly took to the air and then landed again just out of view beyond the fence line.  Being a year tick and a relatively scarce bird here, I decided a closer approach was called for, so marched across the field to the area fenced off by the STW - a spill earlier in the year, which I'm not sure has been fixed yet, but has been fenced off for months.  As I arrived at the fencing, the Raven took to the air and flew westwards directly over me - it didn't call, but continued southwards over the Thames and into Berks at Cock Marsh where it flew ever eastwards and out of view - a nice year tick and unusual to actually see on the ground rather than just passing over.

Returning to the lake, a sudden exodus of birds from the spit hailed the arrival of a Peregrine that flew low over the birds, though without much purpose and then flew off northwards - only my second sighting this year.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Brent Bonus

15th November - it was a gloriously sunny morning, but quite cold.  I decided to leave my patch visit to mid morning.  On arrival, one of the first birds I saw on the near spit was an unseasonal Oystercatcher - I thought I'd be able to get a reasonable record shot in good light, but almost immediately, the flock of 500-600 Lapwing got spooked and took the Oyc with them.  I watched it fly low south over the railway and assumed it might have landed on the small flood in the meadow.  I waited to see if it might return, but it seemed to have gone, so I made my way to the meadow - no sign.  Back at the pit, it was back on the spit!  The Lapwing were spooked with annoying regularity during the morning, sometimes taking the Oyc with them and sometimes leaving it stranded.  I went back to the viewpoint and managed some reasonable records.  Judging by its greyish legs, half-formed throat collar and brownish mantle, it looks to be a 1st winter bird.

I counted 11 Snipe sunning themselves then started to pack up.  Whilst doing so, a familiar birder approached, though I think I've only seen him once before.  I told him about the Oyc and he responded with, "I've just seen a Brent Goose".  Some frantic questions revealed that he had seen a lone Brent Goose feeding in a newly sown crop field just to the north of the patch, but only by some hundreds of yards.  He had seen it 45 minutes earlier, but had lost it after it had flown south and was checking to see if it had flown in here - it hadn't, but I was now on the hunt - surely I hadn't missed a flyover Brent!  I first checked the fields immediately north of the pit to no avail, so I decided to revisit the site of the original sighting.

Parking by the farm shop and walking north about 100yds, I had a good view over several fields to the NE and almost immediately espied a lone Brent Goose feeding 2 fields over - it was very distant.  After a few minutes, a Red Kite landing too close for comfort flushed the goose and it flew off south gaining height - to the pit I thought, but as it neared the road and the edge of the patch, it doubled back and finally landed slightly closer just 1 field away.  It was still distant, but I was now struck by how pale the flanks looked and by the obvious demarcation between the dark neck and the paler breast - could this be a Pale-bellied? I was struggling to remember the possible variability in Dark-bellied, so didn't want to make a false call.  I took some record shots, which are below, though heavily cropped, but before I was able to get home and look at them, a phone call and then a text book that Graham S fortunately had in his car, said that a key feature in Pale-bellied is the lack of a dark belly between its legs.  Though distant, this bird seemed to show a white belly here - surely it was a Pale-bellied.  I was never confident in ageing it either at the distance it was, but the cropped photos appear to show an adult.

I was soon due to pick the kids up from school, but first I stepped back into the northern edge of the patch and was pleased to be able to see the goose through a thinning hedge.  Eventually, after picking the kids up and various ferrying trips, I was able to review the record shots, plus google images, Collins et al and feel fairly confident that this is indeed a Pale-bellied Brent Goose, only the second seen in Bucks - thanks to John H for the tip off!  Apparently Mike C couldn't find the bird around 2:30pm after some local shooting had started up, but I hope it gets relocated and is a bit closer!



Tuesday, 12 November 2013

First Med in a while

12th November - it made a change to have some nice weather and I spent a while checking out the ducks and gulls.  The only bird of note was a 1st winter Med Gull, my first here since early September, though it only stayed for about 15 minutes for a quick preen and then was off west over the STW.  A few record shots:

I decided to do a few species counts, as it seemed that there had been a general increase in many of them - not all species were counted, but some selective ones were:

Common Gull - 76 - numbers of these will continue to rise as we go through the winter
GBB Gull - 1 - a regular adult, again there will be many more of these in the winter roosts
Wigeon - c80 - I reached 80, but there were some hidden at the back of the spit.  These will probably peak at around 150
Shoveler - 36
Gadwall - 18
Pochard - 27
Egyptian Goose - 25
Snipe - 7
Lapwing - c500 - these can rise to well over 1,000

Teal numbers were probably close to 100, but they were all over the place, so I didn't attempt a count.  GC Grebes were in excess of 20 and the Tufted Duck flock was well into 3 figures.  Amongst these it was nice to see the blue nasal-saddled female, code BFK, again.  She has returned here each autumn and spring and occasional dates in the winter since 2011 having been rung at St Philbert de Grand Lieu just south of Nantes in December 2010.

About 20 Siskins went over in a couple of flocks, single figures of Skylark and Mipit, c70 Redwings in a couple of flocks and getting on for 100 Woodpigeons.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Gulls - don't you just love 'em.........

5th November - I had seen a gull that I had assumed was a dark eyed adult Yellow-legged Gull coming into roost about a week earlier.  It seemed odd, though the light was too poor to get any proper detail.  This afternoon, the same bird appeared, so I was able to get some more detail and take some record shots.

It definitely has a dark iris - even in bright sunlight it looks dark brown.  The mantle is dark grey and looks too dark to be anything other than YLG.  It has dark primary coverts, so is not adult, but the tail is pure white and the tertials show no sign of immaturity, so either an advanced 3rd winter or possibly 4th winter bird.  The bare parts are quite washed out - the bill being pale yellow, quite long and with an obvious sub terminal bar, again a sign of immaturity; the legs very pale yellow, almost fleshy in some lights.  The primary tips looked extensively black, typical of YLG to my eyes, with just a single largish white mirror on P10.  I didn't manage to get a shot of the open wing, but this is how it seemed to me on a few brief flights.  The top of the crown shows some faint streaking, again not unreasonable for YLG.

All in all, it adds up to being a 3w/4w dark eyed Yellow-legged Gull, but it still seems slightly odd - the small dark eye in particular being quite strange for a YLG of this age (though not unheard of).  The diluted pale bare parts seem a bit odd on a YLG of this age, but immaturity could account for this.

In some shots, it gives some structural resemblance to Caspian - small head, small dark eye, fairly long and parallel sided bill, but I don't think it is this species.  My gut feeling is a YLG, but it still seems a bit odd and I wouldn't be surprised if it had some other genes present, though equally it could just be an odd pure YLG.

What do you think?

Monday, 4 November 2013


4th November - my first November visit was a quick lunchtime check on a lovely bright and sunny afternoon.  Almost the first bird I looked at was a large gull with a monstrous bill preening in front of the island - I was pretty sure it was a Caspian Gull and when it turned side on, I could see that it was indeed a 2nd winter Caspian Gull.  This is the first 2w Casp I have seen here and I wondered whether it might be a returning bird from one of the many 1w we had here last winter.  The fairly distinctive bill certainly looks similar to a 1w bird seen here in November last year - it has a fairly distinct convex slope on the tip of the upper mandible and an identical pale tip.

It was always a little distant, but I took some records in different poses to try and capture most of the features.

Apart from a Chiffchaff with a strident call at the end of the viewpoint, nothing else of note.  I didn't have time to complete a circuit - I would like to take look at the athya flock, usually on the NE side, as a female nasal banded TD has turned up again and is likely to be the regular bird, BFK, noted here every year since October 2011.

Pegged back

Well the rest of October has been very quiet - hence the lack of updates.  I did manage to get one more year tick with a Peregrine flying over carrying prey, possibly a Starling, on the 28th.  It looked very odd initially because of this, but flew off purposefully SE, presumably to somewhere it could take its meal.

I've seen 2 Dabchick several times, which I don't think are ever that common here, so nice to see.  Also a Little Egret on the 22nd.  3 House Martins over NW on the 14th were my last of the year, but no further sightings of Swallow here.  Otherwise, it's been the usual wildfowl, with numbers gradually creeping up and a handful of Snipe.

One oddity on the 28th was a colour-ringed Jackdaw.  The roost is now many hundreds, but I don't generally look too hard at them.  This bird jumped through my scope whilst I was watching the gulls - it had green above yellow on the right leg and blue above a metal ring on the left.  It looks to be a British bird, but I await further details.  I have noted a few CR gulls, but they have all been repeat sightings.

Due to the lack of patch activity, I've successfully twitched a few other birds over the past few weeks:
  • A Radde's Warbler at Andover, Hampshire on the 13th.  A bogey bird that I've dipped several times over the years.
  • A Semipalmated Plover at Hayling Island, Hampshire - a superb find by Andy Johnson, an old birding friend from my original patch at Dinton Pastures, Berkshire.  Together with him and Fraser Cottington, we hold (or share) the Berkshire bird race record at 121 species.
  • A Ring-necked Duck at Wilstone Reservoir, Herts on the 29th.  I hadn't seen one for a few years and it was too close to ignore.
  • A fantastic Hermit Thrush at Porthgwarra, Cornwall on the 30th - I don't do too many long distance twitches nowadays, but occasionally get the urge......with a White-rumped Sand thrown in for good measure.