Friday, 29 August 2014

Honey Monster!

29th August - I was out early this morning.  2 Redshank were new arrivals and fairly vocal as they were put up a few times by the ever nervous Lapwings.  However, they remained on the west side until I left and were with a Green Sand for a while that flew in at 8am but flew back west just after 9am.  I suspect that this bird is using Randall's lake, as I have seen a Green Sand fly in several times now over the past week.

The problem with early morning viewing is that from my usual west side viewpoint, you are looking straight into the sun.  So I made my way down to the meadow with the intention of watching from the southern bank - not something I do very often.  My first scan of the weedy Spade Oak meadow revealed the continuing presence of the juvenile Stonechat - not sure how I missed that yesterday.  I decided to walk to the river and look back at the weeds to try and get a better record shot than my previous effort (not hard!!).  You can see that it is still largely in juvenile plumage and quite a scruffy little bird, but good for the patch.

I then made my way to the southern bank and was pleased to find that a single Spotted Flycatcher was still in the same place as yesterday.  It was very vocal this morning.  I decided to use the fishing swim near the Spot Fly as my vantage point and watched from here for some time.  I picked up 4 Swifts feeding over the poplars on the NE side and there was a steady pulse of hirundines moving through, about 30 Sand Martins and 100 Swallows.  The House Martins of about 100 seemed to be more resident than migrating.  I saw 12 Ring-necked Parakeets fly in from their overnight roost and a lot of geese flying around, c50 Egyptian, c200 Greylags and c100 Canadas, but otherwise not much was happening.

Conscious of the fact that my 2 recent Ospreys had both been seen at around 8:45am, I decided to give myself until 9am just in case.  However, at 8:50am with the weather looking fairly settled, I gave up and started my walk back.  Almost immediately I noticed a buzzard type bird flying south over the STW to the west.  Living in this area, you get very used to seeing Red Kites and Common Buzzards flying around and this bird looked different.  It was obviously a buzzard sp, but its flight looked different to Common, a nice steady and deep wing beat and even from my vantage point through bins the tail and wings looked long.  The upperside was a dark brown not dissimilar to many Common Buzzards.  I had only seen the bird briefly and kept losing it behind trees on the west bank, but I had my suspicions that it was a Honey-buzzard, so I legged it as fast as I could  back to the meadow over the railway crossing.  I knew that I would be able to see without obstruction from here and given the bird's flight path, it should be easily visible if it kept going.  Success! As I entered the meadow, the bird appeared from the STW over the railway and wasn't too far west from being overhead.  I looked at it through bins and could now see that it was a Honey-buzzard - get in!! It was extensively and fairly evenly dark barred over its underwings and belly, with a terminal bar and two other bars on its tail.  The hand area of the underwing appeared slightly paler than the rest of the wing.  However, this view didn't last long, as the bird kept on flapping southwards.  I switched to my scope and watched it flapping and gliding on over the river and over Winter Hill in Berks until it was lost from view - it was probably only c100ft - c150ft up, so fairly low.  As the bird glided away from me, the completely flat wing profile, including the wing tip was very obvious.  Judging by the plumage features that I saw, it looks to be an adult female bird.  A totally unexpected patch tick and one that would have flown straight through unnoticed if I had been standing in my usual spot on the west side, as trees block out any view of the west - luck was with me this morning!

Everything seemed a bit of an anti-climax after that, but I checked Pump Lane paddocks and found 2 Yellow Wagtails with the horses and a little further on a Yellowhammer flew over calling.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

More Spot Flys

28th August - a late afternoon visit to the lake.  The mix of Common Terns had changed since yesterday, with 3 adults and 2 juveniles present.  I bumped into Dave C who had earlier seen a juvenile Med Gull, though this had now departed, but I did pick out a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull along with the semi-regular adult.  Whilst on the western viewpoint, a flock of 6 noisy Yellow Wagtails flew over and just after Dave had left, a Green Sand flew on to the spit.  We had seen 3 Shoveler, 4 Teal and 4 Swifts during an hour's watch, but little else.

After Dave had left, I went down to the meadow, but could find nothing there, so continued along the southern bank.  I hadn't gone very far when I saw a Spotted Flycatcher fly up from some dead branches in the hedge in the same spot as I had seen one yesterday - very possibly the same bird.  I stopped to watch and the saw that there were 2 Spot Flys.  I took some reasonable photos in the early evening sun.

Whilst watching the flycatchers, at least 5 Willow Warblers, a similar number of Chiffchaffs and a single Lesser Whitethroat moved through the hedge.  Overhead, Yellow Wagtails were seen fairly often, with a single, then 4, then another single and finally a group of 8.  In all, 20 birds were noted, though there could easily have been duplication of a flushed flock from somewhere.

Chats, Flys and Ears

A few snippets from last week - a single Green Sand flew on to the spit on the morning of the 22nd and a nice flock of 8 Yellow Wagtails flew off north from Pump Lane paddocks later the same day - I've never seen them at this site before.  The following morning, before a long weekend away over the bank holiday, I looked out of my bedroom window and saw an Osprey flying steadily southwards, this was at 8:45am.  Not quite on patch, but it may well have been a few minutes later if anyone was there to look.  This is my 4th Osprey from the house since 2010, all in the period August 19th-23rd and all flying south or SSW, so it does make me wonder whether it is the same bird.

One of the riverside meadows has a large expanse of metre tall dying vegetation in it.  I have been hoping that this might attract Whinchats and have been checking it regularly.  It was therefore a bit galling to find that 2 Whinchats were seen over the weekend whilst I was away.  What's more, a Spotted Flycatcher was seen in the hedge of the same meadow and is a bird that I keep missing on patch - it is barely annual on site now.

So after my return, I paid a visit on the morning of the 27th.  I was hopeful of some interesting tern, wader or gull movement, as the wind was SE, however, there was little of note on the lake, though it was apparent that the Common Tern colony had largely departed, with just an adult and 3 juveniles present.  I made my way to the weedy meadow, which has slightly restricted viewing from the railway crossing, but could find nothing within it (not surprisingly!), so I continued along the southern bank to view the east side of the spit - nothing there either.  There were a few warblers about, with a Reed Warbler in one of the reed beds, a couple of Willow Warblers and into double figures of Chiffchaffs.  On my way back, I stopped to watch the hirundines over the lake.  There were maybe 100 birds milling about, predominantly House Martins, but with many Swallows and some Sand Martins too.  My attention was drawn to the hedge behind me, as a couple of Blackbirds were making a bit of a racket in the hawthorns and as I watched, a Spotted Flycatcher was silhouetted against the sun at the top of the bush.  I moved slightly to get some sort of view of its plumage and then it vanished - still, this was a much wanted patch tick, so I was pretty happy.  I decided to go back to the railway crossing to see if it was working its way there and was glad that I did, because although there was no further sign of the Spot Fly, a small dark dumpy bird appeared on top of the weeds in the meadow not too far from me.  Half expecting it to be a Dunnock due to its colouration, I was delighted to find that it was in fact a juvenile Stonechat.  It had no real distinguishing plumage features, being fairly dark and mottled all over, but did show a nice chestnut orange tertial patch.  This is only my second patch Stonechat - not an easy bird to get.  I attempted a record shot in a fairly stiff SE breeze, but it was fairly flighty and soon moved out of sight - my one record focussed on the weeds and not the bird, though you can make out a pale tertial patch if you look hard enough!

A quick look at Pump Lane paddocks found a single Wheatear

Thursday, 21 August 2014

More Blackwits

18th August - some obvious passage this morning.  My first Yellow Wagtails of the Autumn flew south over my head calling as I stood in the meadow.  Two birds that rather than continue their passage, veered sharply right at the river and descended to the cattle field where they were soon lost in the long grass.  Two separate Hobbies flew over south during the morning and the tit flock that I watched along the railway hedge held a single Willow Warbler and at least 10 Chiffchaffs.

Hirundines were noticeably flying through in pulses, mainly House Martins, but also some Swallows and Sand Martins and 4 Swifts.  200-300 House Martins went through in a couple of hours, often flying in from the SE and flying NW into the stiff breeze.  Amongst one group of 10 birds was one that when it flew over my head had a very long tail!! This gave it a Swallow sp look, but from the upperside it looked like the House Martins it was with, including a pure white rump.  The tail itself showed feathers sticking out at the base - a very odd feature.  The views I had gave me no reason to think that it was a Swallow or even Red-rumped Swallow, other than the tail was long.  It flew straight through, so went down in my book as an aberrant House Martin, but a frustrating sighting.  Whilst waiting to see if this bird would return, I watched a couple of Black-tailed Godwits fly in from the north and descend to the spit.  I went back round to the west bank and took a couple of record shots and confirmed that they were both adults.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

It's been a long time coming

17th August - Osprey is one of my bogey birds on patch, I always seem to arrive just after or just before one has flown through.  You need a bit of luck with this species, as they almost never linger and you just have to be there when they fly over.  This morning I had been on site for about 5 minutes, viewing from the western bank, when I saw a large bird flying towards the lake from the east.  A quick look through my bins confirmed that it was an Osprey - get in!! I watched it flying closer and saw it looking down at the lake, probably trying to spy a fish.  It veered slightly southwards over the lake and then continued westwards.  It had put all the birds on the spit up in the air and the large gulls were half heartedly chasing it on.  I attempted to catch a record shot with my point and shoot, which suffers with a lack of zoom, so the shots below are quite heavily cropped, the first one massively so, hence the pixilation.

Massive crop

Approaching west bank being followed by a LBBG
Further crop of above photo

Disappearing westwards
A few minutes later a Green Sandpiper flew over calling and later still, a Common Sand flew around the lake looking for somewhere to land, though I don't know whether it did or not.  The spit is suffering with overgrown vegetation at the moment, as the gravel company will not let any of the usual volunteers out to mow it and keep it in check due to Elfin Safety.  Consequently, the usual gulls, geese and Lapwings have all been forced to the edges which gives little space for any passing waders to utilise.  I think that this has definitely had a detrimental effect on wader passage recently, with waders either stopping for a few minutes and being chased off, or more often, just flying straight over.

Other snippets from the past week were 2 Green Sands early on Thursday morning before a Lapwing took a dislike to them and chased them off and a small passage of warblers on Friday morning including 2 Sedge Warblers in the southern reed bed and a Willow Warbler and Whitethroat in the railway hedge.  Yesterday afternoon, I visited Pump Lane for the first time in a while and found a couple of Wheatear in the horse paddocks and also a Clouded Yellow in the field by the vineyard.

Monday, 11 August 2014


11th August - an early afternoon visit was slightly more productive than normal in that a Black-tailed Godwit was present amongst the Black-headed Gull flock on the spit.  It spent most of its time whilst I was there either asleep or partially hidden within the gulls, but I did manage some record shots.  It was an adult, but in heavy moult, and only had a few retained summer scap feathers.  Not much else seen in a fairly quick visit and only viewing from the western bank.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

First wader in a fortnight

9th August - finally got a wader on site this morning, the first recorded since July 26th!! Only a Green Sand, but nice to get a wader to look at at last.

Teal were up to 5, plus singles of Pochard and Gadwall.  Still a few Little Egrets dotted over the site and plenty of Common Tern activity with about 13 or so juveniles still present with similar numbers of adults - I expect that they'll be off soon.

Friday, 8 August 2014

It's all gone quiet

There has been very little of note to blog about, hence the lack of posts.  I don't think there has been a single wader on site for over a week or more, apart from Lapwings, which given the time of year is rather depressing.  This little chap didn't help things yesterday evening and apparently stayed the night as he was still there this morning, though appeared to have departed by this evening.  He was merrily trotting up and down the spit putting everything up as he went.  He has a collar, but not sure where he came from.

There have been 1 or 2 Yellow-legged Gulls loafing around, an adult and juvenile, though I'm not entirely sure these are always the same birds.  The juvenile seen a couple of days ago had typically already moulted several of its scaps, unlike the many juvenile Herring and LBBG on site:

On the wildfowl front, 4 Teal were new in this week, but that's about it - come on birds, where are you?

This large caterpillar crawled over the path in front of me this evening, it's a Lime Hawkmoth larva.  Shortly later a Hummingbird Hawkmoth was seen nectaring on willowherb and bramble flowers, so there are still things to keep me happy!