Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Whinchat hunt brings a gropper

8th September - it has been an odd year for some species, birds that I would normally expect to see on migration have either been very few or non-existent.  Whinchat is a bird that I often see in Spring and have always in previous years had several Autumn records.  This year, my main site for these at the paddocks and vineyards has failed to produce any as yet and Wheatear, another bird seen frequently here, has been well down.

Today, after failing yet again to find a Whinchat at Pump Lane, I decided to broaden my search and check the weedy fields to the west of the main pit.  These always look promising and I had one near the athletics track last year, but it is an area that I do not check that regularly.  I had just climbed and then descended a bank after checking one of the last fields and drawn a blank when a small sandy coloured bird flew up from the long grass next to the path, flew a few yards right past me and dived into the base of a rose bush.  From my brief view, it looked like a warbler - I was intrigued.  I walked the few paces back to the bush, but could see no sign of any bird or any movement.  I was thinking, what species of warbler would behave like this?  Grasshopper Warbler jumped to mind.  After waiting about 10 minutes and seeing no sign of anything, I tried pishing - this had no success either.  A few more minutes went by and then I glimpsed a bird with distinctly dark centred tertials dropping down from low vegetation back into the grass just beyond the rose bush.  I was now pretty sure that this was a gropper.  More time elapsed and I was getting no further views, so I decided to try playing some gropper reeling on my phone.  Almost immediately, I saw movement, as something appeared to walk towards me on the ground underneath overhanging brambles.  It was within a few feet, but I couldn't see what it was.  I stopped the playback and watched for another 10 minutes, but got nothing further.  I thought perhaps I was too close to the bird, so I walked a few yards up the path and tried the playback again.  Again, immediately a bird climbed through the grass just a few feet from me.  I could now clearly see that this was a gropper - get in! A very rare bird in this area.  Jim R told me that he has only seen one before and that was about 30 years ago!  I stopped the playback and the bird sat out in the open looking at me for a while and then turned around and disappeared back into the undergrowth.  I don't normally like using playback, but in this instance, I don't think that I would have had any views of the bird - it was incredibly skulky and if I hadn't chanced upon the first flight view, I would have been oblivious to the bird's presence.  It was silent throughout and my playback times were minimal.  The bird's short spell in the open enabled me to take a few record shots on my phone, a couple of which I have cropped and shown below:

Earlier in the day, I had seen 4 Yellow Wagtails fly over the lake and had had my first Siskin of the year with a single fly over.  There were large numbers of hirundines flying over and above the lake and also settling in lakeside trees.  The bulk of these were Swallows at around 400, there were about 100 House Martins and just a handful of Sand Martins.  I found a bare branch that they kept settling on so took a few photos - it was nice to see good numbers of juveniles:

Sand Martin, Swallow and House Martin at the back

Sand Martin

Juv House Martin
At one point the birds rose into a tell tale ball, so I looked around for a raptor,  Sure enough a Hobby appeared and almost immediately went into a stoop.  It had singled out a Swallow low over the lake.  It missed its prey, but then rose higher and dropped again.  This time, the impact was an audible thump, as the Swallow was held in the Hobby's talons and it flew off to devour its catch.  Not something I've seen too often.

The Cettis' Warbler has started to sing in brief bursts and looks to have taken up territory in the NW corner of the lake.  It seems to be most vocal in the mornings.  Other warblers seen were yet another Lesser Whitethroat in the railway hedge, 3 Reed Warblers, 2 Willow Warblers, at least 20 Chiffchaffs, mainly in the railway hedge and getting on for 10 Blackcaps.

A common Sand was the only wader seen today.

A few highlights from earlier in the week:

Pump Lane had a flock of 10 Yellow Wagtails feeding on the short grass around horses on the 6th.  On the same day, a late Swift was over the lake and 2 Common Sands had arrived, still there on the 7th.  A single Wheatear on the 7th at Pump Lane is surprisingly my first of the Autumn.



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