Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A few more notched up

28th January - well unfortunately, the Ring-billed Gull has failed to make a reappearance.  The spit is continuing to resurface as the water level drops away and this has encouraged a return of many birds, primarily Lapwings and BH Gulls.  Unfortunately, the usual loafing group of LWHG that has attracted the rarer large gulls in the past has yet to return - today there were only about 20 and most of these are forced to swim.  Hopefully, as water levels drop further, there will still be time to turn up something good.

Last Friday, a small flock of 11 Golden Plover flew in.  They flew around the visible spit, but decided against landing and departed to the SE over Cock Marsh.  Goldies have been a bit tricky to get over the last year or so - they were much more regular before this.  I think the flooded conditions have been the cause.  Last year I had to wait until mid December for the year tick, so it is nice to get this one under the belt early on.

On Sunday, after the day's rain had stopped, I went down for the gull roost - ever hopeful!  There were actually an awful lot of them, though mostly BHG and Commons.  These 2 species formed a huge raft along the eastern side of the lake.  I estimated about 3000 BHG and 1000 Common.  The large gulls were much less well represented, though it was nice to see 36 GBBG.  One of these had a NTGG colour ring code R1AT that I have sent over for details.  There were probably only 150 Herring and just 50 LBBG and no scarce birds amongst them, which was a bit disappointing, especially as just 20 odd miles to the north at Calvert they had a Kumlien's, Iceland and Glaucous - greedy lot!  On the way back to the car, a Tawny Owl was silhouetted in the small oak to the left of the path, which is often where I see them.  Oh, a single collybita Chiffchaff was also around the viewpoint.

Today was much the same.  The regular pair of Shelduck were joined by a third bird, but the male took a dislike to it and seemed to chase it off.  10 Siskins feeding in alders by the car park was my largest flock of the year so far.  I took a walk to Emmett's farm and added Yellowhammer to the list with 3 birds in the trees to the west of the path by the pheasant cover.  Linnets and Skylarks were also present, but not as numerous as my last visit.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Ring-billed Beauty!

20th January - well after my moan in the last post on the mediocrity of the patch birds, today is the reason why I carry on trudging around.

I only had my lunch break for a quick visit, but it was a lovely day with no wind and plenty of sunshine, though a bit cooler than of late.  First up, straight out of the car park, I could hear Siskins calling - 2 male birds were in the path side alders.  Not unusual, but a patch year tick.  Then on to the lake.

I had been unable to visit at the weekend and had missed a female Goldeneye - never an easy duck here, so I was hoping that it might still be about.  I couldn't see it on a couple of scans from the west bank, but 2 Shelduck were another year tick.  The water level had obviously fallen still further and there was a bit more of the spit poking through the water.  This had encouraged a few gulls down plus some geese and ducks away from the margins.  It was nice to have some gulls to look through again, as these had been absent in the high water conditions.  Nothing of note in the 20 or so gulls there, so I decided to continue towards the flood meadows.  Half way down, I used one of the gaps in path side vegetation to look back up to the NE corner to see if there was anything hidden there.  Whilst doing this, my scope hit the small group of gulls again - Ring-billed Gull!!!!!! Surely not, that wasn't there a minute ago.  I checked it through, but there was no mistaking it, a stonking adult Ring-billed Gull.  I quickly returned to my original position which was closer to the birds and after texting the news out, tried to get some record shots.  It really was very obvious.  It had a broad based, deep yellow bill with a well defined black terminal ring.  The iris was glaringly yellow and the legs were deep yellow with a slight greeny tone.  The mantle was very pale grey, similar to BHG and much lighter than adjacent Commons and it had a restricted tertial crescent.

After only a few minutes in which my record shots were patchy at best, something spooked the gulls and they all flew off south - I assumed to the flood meadows.  I made my way down there, but as the paths are still very muddy or underwater, this was not a quick exercise.  The meadow floods had receded since my visit on Friday and held hundreds of gulls - mainly BHG, but quite a few Commons.  These extended westwards to meadows that could not be viewed easily looking into the sun.  I gave it 10 minutes, but could not relocate the bird, so I returned to the lake only to find that the RBG was now sitting on the water in front of the island.  This gave me another opportunity to grab some record shots.  Whilst doing so, Neil W joined me and he was able to take some video, which I hope to link to later.  Taking our eyes off the bird to try and locate it from the back of camera screens whilst digiscoping proved a bad move, because suddenly it wasn't there any more and neither of us had seen it depart.  I assumed that it had flown back to the flood meadows, but again I couldn't find it there.  Unfortunately, my time had run out and I had to leave, but I left others looking and I hope it returns.  It may also be worth checking the QMR roost in Berks, as gulls from here often roost there.

Edit: it looks like it did roost at QMR, as Mike McKee had a probable adult RBG at 3pm, though it was too distant for photos.  Here is a link to Neil W's video:


Funnily enough, although a scarce bird, this is my third at this site following an adult in April 2003 and a 2nd summer in July 2004, so for some reason Ring-billed Gulls seem to have a liking for this patch.
Initial views

Showing the legs

On the water

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Meagre Pickings

17th January - it's on days like today that I wonder why I bother with patch birding and don't just go somewhere where there are birds to look at.

Water levels have obviously fallen.  The longer stalks of vegetation on the spit are beginning to poke through again and the lake has fallen back below the edge on most of the western side so that there are now only a few puddles to negotiate - at least as far as the still submerged south-western corner.  From the railway crossing, the flood meadows now have larger areas of grassland visible - certainly by the slightly raised banks of the Thames.  Many hundreds of Black-headed Gulls were enjoying these areas.  I waited about 20 minutes looking for Tuesday's Chiffchaffs, but not a sign - I wonder where they've gone? Maybe back within the impenetrable boundaries of the STW.  Other lake birds were much the same, so I decided to visit the arable farmland of Emmett's to the north.

Highlights here were a sizeable Linnet flock of around 100 birds and a nice flock of around 40 Skylarks.  No buntings visible and the few RL Partridges soon scattered when the regular shooting party turned up!

Pump Lane was unsurprisingly quiet, but so too were the eastern areas of the pits around the Roach and Crown Plaza pits, which was more disappointing.  I must get out here towards dusk for owls, but for today, my year list has trickled on to the high 60s - apart from the Siberian Chiffies, there has been nothing of note at all on patch - something's got to appear soon, surely!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

A couple of Sibes

14th January - the water level at the main pit is still as high as I can remember seeing it.  With the spit completely submerged, the dabblers seem to have dwindled and the gulls have all but disappeared.  Likewise, there is nowhere for the Lapwing or geese to congregate, so there are fewer birds to look through.  There are still a few Snipe lurking in the reed fringes and the occasional calling Water Rail, whilst the aythyas seem to like the conditions and there are plenty of Tufties and Pochard scattered around, though unfortunately nothing scarcer as yet.

Viewing is difficult because after the first 50 yards of muddy path, the path has been covered by the lake, so you are wading through up to a foot of water - not ideal for looking for birds!  Today I decided to wade my way towards the flood meadows to see what they looked like.  I eventually made it to the dry ground of the slightly raised railway line, but couldn't get any further as the meadows are still under a foot or two of water.  The Thames has obviously fallen a couple of feet from its high, as you can now make out the banks and some stretches of grass that were under water a few days ago.  The water was also fairly close to reaching the train tracks, but had subsided back to the meadow.

There wasn't much to see here either, but I set my scope up to look through the small gathering of gulls that had gathered on the newly emerged grassland - they comprised almost totally Black-headed.  As I was getting ready to set off back up the path, I noticed a Chiffchaff feeding actively low down in the track side vegetation only a few yards to my left.  It was immediately obvious that this was a pale bird and I had my suspicions that it was a tristis type.  I was able to get good views at close quarters through both bins and scope as it fed and could see that it was basically a pale buffy toned bird above and almost white below.  The obvious whitish super had a buffy tone in front of the eye and the ear coverts were also buff in tone.  There were no olive or yellow tones at all apart from greenish edges to the remiges.  The legs and bill were dark blackish.  The bird did not call at this stage and soon flew past me down the track, though I was fairly happy that this was indeed a Siberian Chiffchaff.  I watched the bird fly over the track into low vegetation and again got it in my scope - I could now see the original bird and an olive toned collybita and then amazingly another almost identical pale looking bird - 2 tristis!  At this stage I phoned the news out.  I was eventually joined by Graham S and then LGRE and Mike C.  Apart from a further 2 collybita, the Chiffchaffs had become scarce, but eventually one and then both birds reappeared.  They then showed reasonably well, but in the bright sunlight, photos of the birds were often not truly reflective of their actual colour in the field.  They were also heard to call, a single monotone 'pew', the final clinching feature.  One more collybita appeared to complete a nice wintering group of Chiffchaffs and with further known birds around the base of the spit, there are at least 7 birds on site.

With my limited digiscoping abilities, I did not attempt to take photos, but the 3 other guys did, so I will try and nick one or two to post here later.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

PWC Revised Site Map

I am taking part in the Patchwork Challenge again this year, but have decided to include a slightly bigger area for my patch.  I will still keep a separate list for Little Marlow GP, which is essentially the main lake to the east of the Marlow GP complex and surrounding fields, as this area is watched by several people who maintain lists for it.

My PWC patch will include all the accessible Marlow gravel pits and surrounding fields, plus the Emmetts farm area to the north of the Marlow road and the Pump Lane paddocks and vine fields.  I watch all these areas regularly and they do actually adjoin (more or less) creating an area of around 3 square km, which is the size limit for a PWC patch.  If I had included all of these areas last year, I could have added, off the top of head, Osprey, Redstart, Whinchat and Yellowhammer to the 2013 list - I will need to adjust my comparative total in this year's competition!

Here is a map showing the patch:

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A Wet Start to 2014

Jan 3rd - I eventually made my first new year visit to the patch - woefully late for a keen patcher! This was to view the gull roost, so not even an attempt to pick up easy year ticks, but hoping for a nice wind blown seabird like a Kittiwake.

The wet weather had caused the lake to rise substantially since my last visit, which was a couple of weeks ago.  The southern part of the spit was largely under water, with just a few outcrops where the birds were gathering.  Many of the LWHG had chosen to land on the areas west of the island, so were actually reasonably close, whereas the flighty BHG and Common Gulls were split between here and a raft on the far eastern side, so were less easy to view.

The main highlight was the build up of Great Black-backs which usually happens around this time.  I counted 52 birds, being mainly adult.  Otherwise, just Herring and LBBG with many hundreds of BHG and Common Gulls.

All the usual duck were present in good numbers whilst a couple of Snipe still had areas of soft mud to probe.

Jan 7th - yet more rain and a fast rising river Thames adjacent meant the lake was still higher this morning.  Just the base of the spit is still above water and consequently no loafing gulls, which is one of my areas of interest.  The regulars had counted the wildfowl at the weekend, so being lazy, I have copied these counts to give a flavour for the number of duck present:

358 Tufted Duck
123 Pochard
162 Wigeon
94 Gadwall
66 Shoveler

These condition s are very similar to early winter last year when Pintail found the conditions to their liking and built up in reasonable numbers, so I hope the same happens this year.  2 Little Grebe were still showing and I had 2 on the 3rd as well, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary.

I was just able to make a circuit of the lake, thought the southern side requires wellies.  The flood meadows are flooded right up to the railway track and look even deeper than I remember them last year - no chance of any dog walkers there at the moment, but also disappointingly no birds - probably too deep at the moment, but as the water retreats it might be interesting.

The small tree line in the distance is the edge of the river

The small tree line in the distance is the edge of the river

You can just see the top of a riverside bench to the right

Grazing paddocks
With little added to the year list, I went and year ticked the Bucks Cattle Egret still remaining faithful to the cattle fields to the west of Steeple Claydon in the north of the county.

You can see how muddy the cattle's legs are

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2013 Highlights

I failed to make any visits over the Christmas period, so my patch list for the Little Marlow main pit site finishes on 129, although this can be increased to132 by the addition of Scaup, Little Owl and Barn Owl, all seen at the western end of the pit complex on or near the Roach Pit.

As is customary, it is nice to reflect on some of the year's highlights, so here they are:

January had 2 different 1st winter Caspian Gulls, both hang overs from 2012, plus an adult which was seen just once:

Whilst over at the Roach pit, the 1st winter female Scaup also remained into the new year and actually stayed until mid March:

January also saw the start of a small influx of Pintail, which remained throughout the winter period, with numbers peaking in March in the mid teens - I counted 14 on March 1st:

I got a patch tick in late January with 2 Woodcock, but I was to see further birds on several evenings later in the winter, flying over towards the meadows at dusk.

February's best bird was probably the Jack Snipe found on the 19th amongst the amazing numbers of Snipe.  There were 103 birds present that day, numbers being high throughout this period probably due to the flooding.

Another 1st winter Casp starting appearing fairly regularly from the 5th:

The highlight of March was another patch tick, Avocet - a flighty bird found on the 9th that was only present for a couple of hours before flying off.

On the 19th, yet another 1st winter Casp appeared.  It was quite a striking bird and whilst browsing the Oxon bird blog, I found a similarly plumaged bird taken at Appleford, Oxon in December 2012.  It looked to be the same bird and Ian Lewington thought so too!

Med Gulls started appearing more regularly during the month and I thought this 2nd summer bird on the 21st was particularly nice:

I will remember April for the discovery of not 1 but 2 Wood Warblers.  The 1st appeared briefly on a very cold morning on the 20th, whilst 3 days later a different bird performed all day for the crowds:

A Spotted Redshank on the 24th was yet another patch tick, whilst April Arctic Terns and Whimbrel are now almost expected.  4 Arctics on the 18th and a Whimbrel on the 21st, with 2 more on the 26th.  The 27th saw yet another 1st winter/summer Caspian Gull.
Early May's highlight and contender for bird of the year was a fly over Crane.  It flew in from the east on the morning of the 6th and fortunately circled the car park area allowing a record shot before departing to the west.
The 7th saw the first of 3 Wood Sands during the year, whilst the 15th had another patch tick when a female type Marsh Harrier flew low north over the pit in the afternoon:
On the 18th, 2 Temminck's Stints were discovered in the early afternoon and they remained for the rest of the day:

A couple of days later, 2 Sanderling were in exactly the same spot on the spit:
The best bird in June was the 2nd Wood Sand of the year on the 24th.
July produced the year's 3rd Wood Sand with another adult bird present on the 3rd.  Otherwise, it was the usual build up of post breeding gulls - in particular many colour ringed BHG seen in the previous year returned, including birds from Lithuania and Germany.  The 1st juvenile Med Gull appeared on the 16th and remained for several weeks.  It was joined by a 2nd bird on the 23rd only.

August was quiet, but the 1st returning Black-tailed Godwits were seen on the 3rd.
September had a small purple patch early on.  A Ruff flew around and then off north on the 8th.  The next day during inclement weather, 3 adult Sandwich Terns arrived, 2 departing and 1 staying through the afternoon.  These were later traced as being initially in Oxfordshire, with the 2 departing birds also being seen at Staines Reservoirs later in the afternoon.  On the 11th, I watched a juvenile Black Tern arrive from the north.  It stayed a remarkable 14 days before departing the site.

On the 23rd 2 juvenile Arctic Terns were present during the afternoon:
The 27th saw another patch tick when a Marsh Tit vocalised its presence.
Not much in October apart from 2 Red-crested Pochard on the 11th.  A late Reed Warbler was seen on the 7th.
November brought a surprise on the 15th when a chance encounter revealed the presence of a Brent Goose just to the north of the site.  On relocating the bird, it proved to be the county's second record of Pale-bellied Brent and it was viewable from within the patch:
On the gull front, a 2nd winter Casp appeared on the 4th, whilst an unidentified near adult gull, presumed Yellow-legged, but possible hybrid was present on and off around the 5th:

Another 1st winter Casp was in the gull roost on the 29th, but December was a little disappointing with no particular highlights.
Here's hoping that 2014 can produce some similar decent birds!