Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A fruitful few days

23rd January - unusually, I was free late afternoon on Saturday, so decided to try the gull roost.  I met Kevin H leaving as I arrived - he said that there was nothing unusual on site and the two Shelduck were still present, so I didn't need to waste my time looking around and could concentrate on the roost.

The gulls were quite flighty when I got there, even the LWHG, which is quite unusual, but at least there seemed to be good numbers of larger gulls - better than on my last roost visit.  It wasn't long before I picked out a nice 2nd winter Caspian Gull - it looked similar to the bird I saw before Christmas, but I thought the bill may have been a bit stronger on this bird.  Shortly later, a lovely 1st winter Caspian Gull pitched up - this was a medium/large bird with quite a long looking bill.  Both birds were together briefly, before they spooked again and they separated.  It was a nice clear evening, so the light was pretty good which lengthened the watching time.  I kept scanning and gulls kept arriving, I was hoping for a nice white winger, but one never materialised.  At about 4:30pm I picked out yet another Caspian Gull, this time a 3rd winter.  Initially on the water, it eventually strode out on long legs to stand on the spit.  I'm not sure I have ever seen two Casps together here before, but I have definitely never seen three.  It is a reflection of the numbers wintering in the region now, there have certainly been good numbers at Hedgerley landfill this winter and many of our gulls feed there during the day.  The only downside was that I was unable to get any record shots of any use, as my digiscoping struggles to focus in low light, light that was fine for my eyes, but too dim for the camera.  A couple of efforts are below:

The 2w in the middle

The 1w
As the light started to fall away, I picked out a hefty 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull wading around near the tip of the near spit.  These gulls are quite scarce in the winter, more of a late summer bird here, so nice to get so early on.  The only other bird I noted was a Chiffchaff around the bench prior to roost.
When the light had become too dark for meaningful identification, I walked back towards the car.  I spent a little time while the light ebbed away even further, looking westwards over the car park field.  Two or three years ago, there had been a regular Woodcock that used to fly out towards the meadows as darkness fell, so I always give it a look when I'm here at this time.  At 17:15, a dark shape flew low over my head flying west and then veered SW over the sewage works towards the meadows - a Woodcock! Very pleased to get this species again and knowing that at least one is probably roosting on site, I'll try and give it another go or two over the next few weeks.
25th January - I decided to spend some time around the farmland at Emmetts, hoping in particular to pick up Yellowhammer, though I still needed Red-legged Partridge.
As I walked up the track, it was immediately obvious that the closest area of game cover had been cut down.  A quick scan of this revealed 4 Red-legged Partridges on the far side.  Apart from the usual flock of Chaffinches and Linnets and a single Meadow Pipit, I couldn't see much else.  I continued a little further and looked over the bare fields to the east.  I could see that there were Golden Plover here again, but they were hunkered down.  I attempted a count but it was difficult and there was some estimation - I got to around 400 birds, somewhere near half way or over and they took off.  My initial estimate of 600 birds soon rose to about 800 as they wheeled about overhead for ages -  a marked increase on my last visit.
Whilst I had been watching these, I had heard a Grey Partridge call from somewhere close and behind me and then another from my right.  I looked a couple of times before I eventually picked out a nice male in the cut game cover - very pleased with this and my first sighting since the previous winter.  I am still unsure as to the origins of these birds, but in a recent conversation with a farmer who refers to partridges as French and English, so is aware of the difference, he told me that he doesn't put Grey Partridges down and always likes to see them, so they may be genuine wild birds.  Based on his comments, I'll continue to give them the benefit of the doubt.  The last shoot on his land is over for this period, so maybe why this bit of game cover has now gone.  I watched the single male for a while and then the other bird that I had heard flew in and joined the first.

I continued my walk.  At the top of the slope, a Raven flew past me and was joined by a second bird.  They flew over the woodland for a bit and then disappeared.  I then heard Yellowhammer calls and sure enough a small flock of 5 birds were in the tops of nearby oak trees amongst numerous Chaffinches, a handful of Reed Buntings and a single Lesser Redpoll (I only ever seem to see one of these here, but quite frequently - can it be the same bird?).  They were using the trees to sit in and then flighting to another area of game cover that still stood.

poor record, poor light

poor record, poor light
Happy with my haul, I left, but picked up two Chiffchaffs in the hedge on the way back to the car.

I came across another Raven later in the afternoon flying north over the athletics track, so a three Raven day!

Edit: Dave C reported a Merlin briefly mid afternoon at Emmetts.  This would be a patch tick for me and a bird I am always looking out for over these fields, so a bit gutted, but pleased that a Merlin may still be in the area.

26th January - I gave Emmetts a look today, hoping for Merlin, but it was a bit windy and gave up as the rain started.  I saw 5 Grey Partridge today, a pair on one edge of the cut cover and three males on the opposite edge before moving to the longer grass by the hedge.  There was also at least 38 Snipe roosting on the bare field today, but only about 200 Golden Plover, always in flight.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Winter's arrived

19th January - my car said that it was -4 C when I arrived at the lake just before 9am and it definitely felt like it, though it was lovely and bright with no wind.  Parts of the lake had frozen, but to no great degree.  I wandered round and took a few scenery shots, as frost has been in short supply this winter.

Some ice had formed on the west side
The cold weather hadn't brought in any interesting birds, though a single Snipe on the spit was my first at the lake this year. A couple of Shelduck were still present along with all the usual wildfowl and small flocks of Siskins were flying around, including about 20 birds feeding in an alder on the southern bank.  The sight of the pair of Black Swans with heavy frost on their backs was quite spectacular.

The previous day, 18th, had seen my first patch visit for almost 2 weeks, hence the lack of updates.  I had been looking after ailing children and was also ill myself.  During that time I had missed a male Goosander and at least three visits of Goldeneye, both single males and a female.  Both of these species are tricky and don't tend to stick, so I'm falling behind the patch list quite early on.

I managed three year ticks yesterday: Sparrowhawk, Snipe and House Sparrow, so nothing too exciting.  The most fruitful area were the fields at Emmett's farm.  I had a nice flock of 300 Golden Plover roosting on a ploughed field, with the same field holding a roosting flock of at least 30 Snipe (this is obviously where they have been rather than on the spit by the lake).  Still no Yellowhammers or surprisingly any Partridges, but it was nice to watch a flock of 60 Linnets bouncing around and feeding on setaside.  The/a single Chiffchaff was still in the hedge near the buildings.

I watched the Golden Plover for a while until they suddenly got up and wheeled around.  They then split into smaller groups and flew off in all directions - I would have thought safety in numbers would have kept them together, but apparently not.  A record shot of some of the roosting group and a small video of the flock flying over are below:

Video here

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Another day another Med

I popped in for a quick visit before school pick up and this adult Med Gull did the same thing.  It is probably the regular unringed adult that has been seen over the past few weeks.  It appeared shortly after I arrived and 10 minutes later after all the gulls flushed (as they do regularly), it decided to move on.

After a poor year for this species in 2015 - I only had 2 in the whole year and there were probably only 3 or maybe 4 in total for a species that is normally quite regular here - it is nice to get two in the first week of the year.

Record phone scoped shot in poor light.

A Chiffchaff was moving silently through the lake side vegetation as I left - my first at the lake this year.

Frustrating start to 2016

The patch had an excellent start to 2016 when Jackie N discovered a drake Ring-necked Duck amongst the Tufted Ducks on the 2nd.  All credit to her for braving the lousy wet weather and finding a second for the patch. The first was over 40 years ago, a bird that returned over several winters from 1971 to 1974 at the west end of the complex.  Jackie's bird is thought to be the drake that is currently wintering on Bray Lake and did so last winter as well, although it has never strayed this far before.  Both lakes are on the River Thames/Jubilee River and are about 6 miles apart as the duck flies, a bit further as the river flows.  I can only hope that it decides to venture north again, as I was ensconced in Oxford when news broke and was unable to attempt a twitch - even if I had, I would have missed it, as it flew off west later in the afternoon.  Now if I'd been at home, as I had been for days before............ah well, the joys of birding!

I went down the morning after in drizzly weather hoping to relocate the bird but to no avail.  I then attempted a gull roost the following evening, which was a non event, as the gulls refused to settle for some reason, so my year list did not begin in earnest until the 5th.

By the end of the day, I had seen most of the regular stuff and reached 71 species, highlights being the following:

  • 3 Shelduck that arrived in December remain.
  • A colour ringed adult Mediterranean Gull - different to an unringed adult that has been seen several times over the past few weeks.  I read the ring as white S62 and sent off the details.  The same lady administers several schemes and replied saying that I had missed a leading digit (I did wonder at the time if this was the case) and ring should read 3S62.  This is a bird ringed as an adult in Belgium in May 2005, so is at least 12 years old.  It summers/breeds in Antwerp and was last seen at Spurn in Sept 2015.
  • A flock of 35 Golden Plover flew east over Emmett's fields, which also held a flock of c200 Chaffinch, 10 Reed Buntings and a single Lesser Redpoll. 15 Linnets and 4 Meadow Pipits were separate to this main flock. A Chiffchaff was also in a hedge and then around Emmett's farm.
  • A nice flock of c100 Siskin along the railway at Randall's meadow and a further 30 feeding in alders on the NE side of the lake. A female Bullfinch was here as well.
  • Two Coal Tits coming to the cottage feeders, where another or the same female Bullfinch flew through.
  • Two Little Egrets favouring the works bay but also coming to the island/spit.
  • A little Grebe on the NE side with another 3 on the ski pit.
Record shot in poor light - the white colour ring is visible on the left leg
1 of 2 today
I also walked around the north side of the lake for the first time since the site owners, Lafarge, had the poplar wood cut down.  This is an area that had been favoured by nesting Ring-necked Parakeets and currently looks like a bit of a bomb site.  I am told that they intend to replant with native tree species.  It certainly gives a different feel to the site - the lake is visible from the road that runs to the north and fields to the north can be viewed from the lake - time will tell how this might effect records - I am already worried that a traditional Woodcock roost site is now too open.  The two shots below show the east and west views from the small bridge over the brook that used to be within a poplar wood.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Review of 2015

So 2015 ended for me with a species total of 135.  I failed to add anything new in December, but with only one visit over the Christmas period, my chances dwindled.  This total is remarkably consistent with my two previous years of 136, although the species list is more varied.  I am only aware of three missed species this year, so not a bad percentage (Cuckoo, Black Tern and Osprey).

I added six new species which takes my patch list up to 175: Great White Egret in March, Pied Flycatcher in April, Cetti's Warbler in August, Grasshopper Warbler in September and Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl in October.  However, on the downside, there were no singing Cuckoos on site this year, just a single silent female seen once in June.  This must have laid an egg, as a juvenile was seen being fed by Reed Warblers in the summer (whilst I was on holiday).  I failed to find Little Owl all year - a bird that had bred in previous years, though the nest tree blew over in storms in 2014.  Having claimed that 2014 was poor for waders, 2015 was even worse.  Ten species on my patch list did not appear, including Curlew and there were only single records of Ringed Plover and Whimbrel.  Tern passage was also down on previous years - just a single Black Tern in the autumn, which was amazingly the only county record this year.  Sandwich Tern failed to appear again and Arctic Tern passage was light.

So a mixed year, below are some highlights:

Another tristis type Chiffchaff was found in January, staying until April, during which time it was heard singing.

The first Caspian Gull of the year appeared in February:

The site's first Great White Egret was discovered in March - a colour ringed bird ringed in France,
Photo here

On the morning of April 26th, I found a Little Tern and a Kittiwake within a few minutes of each other and a Redstart soon afterwards:

Two days later, a female Pied Flycatcher landed just above my head - only the second for the site - no pictures unfortunately.

April also saw a light passage of Arctic Terns.

Some nice birds in May - the first Little Gull for a few years was a stonking adult; the second Kittiwake of the year (another adult in poor weather!); the only Whimbrel of the year and an unseasonal Caspian Gull:

 June 15th found a pair of Garganey and a flock of Black-tailed Godwits (going or coming back?)

 July brought a juvenile Med Gull - only my second of the year and to remain so by year end!

 July also saw the best wader of the year - a nice adult Turnstone.


After returning from a summer holiday in August, I found a Cetti's Warbler - a scarce bird here and the first for a few years.  It remained for a week or two before departing, though the photo records aren't worth posting.  The month also brought a flock of three Spoonbills - a welcome sight after missing a bird in May by twenty minutes.  They appeared to be an adult (colour ringed) and two immature birds - the adult remaining for three days.

 In September, I found a skulking warbler on the edge of a grassy field.  A bit of perseverance gave me a welcome patch tick Grasshopper Warbler - a very scarce bird in the area - apparently the first for some decades!

The fields around Emmett's farm were productive in October - firstly, a superb adult male Hen Harrier and then another migrant raptor in the form of a Short-eared Owl.

The first Pintail of the year also dropped in during October:

Another storm in November brought the third Kittiwake of the year - possibly moribund.

Other highlights were a 1st winter Caspian Gull and three Red-crested Pochards.

Finally December brought a nice male Pintail and two more Caspian Gulls - a 2nd winter early on and an unphotographed 1st winter in the new year's eve roost.