Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The first summer migrants

Well it had to happen - first my son was ill, then my daughter and then me.  This is the worst couple of months I can remember for family illnesses and contributing to my growing list of missed patch birds.  Still, most of these should be retrievable and I'm looking forward to a healthy Spring!

Over the last week, Alan S has had a Redshank, a Dunlin, then an eastern type Chiffchaff showing characteristics of tristis, followed by a Goshawk and lastly a Little Ringed Plover. With illnesses and work, I had managed to miss all of these.

My first opportunity to visit was late afternoon on Saturday 19th.  I made my way to the small reed bed on the southern bank where the eastern type Chiffchaff had been reported since the 15th.  On arrival, I immediately found the bird feeding within the reeds and occasionally venturing higher up twigs and stems.  It was not what I would call a classic looking tristis type, but then it looked a bit dishevelled around the head and I wondered if it might be in body moult (I associate moult at this time of year with Eastern Chiffchaffs.  Last year's bird was in active tail moult in late March).  It was certainly nice and clean white below apart from some buffish tones on the sides of the breast.  The upper sides were buffish but with greyish tones and lacked a lot of olive tone, though the remiges and bnd in the wing appeared to have some yellowness to them.  The supercilium was quite distinct, but broken maybe due to head moult and this might have made the bill look larger than it might otherwise have done. The legs were nice and black, but the bill was more deep red looking in colour, appearing blackish in cold light and paler in bright light.  Last year's bird responded immediately to tristis song and used to fly over and tremble its wings above my head.  I tried this tactic again and got little response, though it was noticeable that the bird stopped what it was doing and seemed to be listening, so maybe it's a female.  It was, as ever, a silent bird, so no diagnostic call note.  Nowadays, these pale Chiffchaffs seem to get reported readily as Siberian Chiffchaffs, so for the purposes of my patch year list, this is what I am doing.

It was late enough in the day for the gull roost to be building and on a quick perusal I found three different Med Gulls: 2 adult summers and a second summer that had a black hood but some white above the bill.

My next visit was yesterday, the 22nd.  The LRP had been seen on the 21st, but was not there a day later.  Although it was a lovely sunny day and temperatures hit double figures, little seemed to be happening.  The Siberian Chiffchaff type was actively fly catching from its reed bed enabling me to scrutinize it further (and reach the same conclusion as the weekend).  A pair of Oystercatchers flew in mid morning - these have been around for a while - and a Raven circled briefly over the SW corner before drifting off NW.  I also observed a large flock of Golden Plover in flight to the north of the lake and probably over Emmett's fields where birds have been on and off all winter.  I estimated 450-500 birds and watched them fly off west.

And so to this morning.  It was lovely and still, but overcast and quite gloomy.  I was hopeful of the first Sand Martins of the year, but this was not to be.  A quick look on the spit found a Little Ringed Plover - my first summer migrant of the year.  There was also an advanced 1st winter Med Gull on the end of the spit - one of about 20 gulls that might have been remnants of the roost.  It was having a wash and brush-up and looked to be heading off, which it did shortly later.  A few record shots in the gloom:

I then went to the south bank to see if the Sibe Chiff type was still in the reeds.  Prior to this, I walked a little further so that I could look up the east side of the spit and into the NE corner.  As I scoped the wildfowl, I quickly came across a lovely drake Garganey.  It was surface feeding with a small flock of Shoveler and Tufted Duck.  You can't beat a Spring male Garganey - fantastic looking ducks.  This meant that I had to walk right round to the northern bank in order to try and get some sort of record of it, but also, views were that much closer and better.  I still struggled to get anything in focus, with the low light and quite an active duck, but got one reasonable photo and then resorted to a short video on my phone.

The video is here Again, it's not great, but if you watch it in 720HD, it is marginally better.

I then had to go home, but I returned later in the afternoon for a short visit just prior to school pick-up.  The Garganey was still present, but out of view from my watch point.  I had just missed three Dunlin that had flown in and stayed about 15 minutes before flying off, but I did see a second Little Ringed Plover arrive, though it took little notice of the first bird.  Then just before I was about to leave, I picked up a lone hirundine flying fairly high up and eastwards, away from me.  I suspected Swallow from its flight style, but when it flew in front of some trees at the back of the pit, it was distinctly brown, so my first Sand Martin of 2016.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

It's been a while

Well I've been ill and now I'm at home because my son is ill.  I do have a few updates, but I've also missed some good birds, which is bound to happen when off patch.

I had intended to do the gull roost way back on Saturday 5th, but did not feel up to it.  Usually, this wouldn't have been a problem, but that afternoon/evening, a lovely adult Kittiwake came in to roost and actually posed for photos on the near spit.  A bit galling, especially when I can see the pictures:

That evening also produced the juvenile Glaucous Gull and three different Med Gulls, so not a good one to miss! Kittiwake joins my ever growing list of good species missed so far this year.  I did manage three different Kittiwakes last year, so hopefully I've still got time to claw that one back.

The Glaucous Gull actually became quite regular at the roosts and appeared almost every night for a week and often early enough, in good light, for some nice photos.  Typically, at the moment, when I had a chance to visit the roost again, last Saturday 12th, it was the first night in ages that it didn't appear, though a nice adult Med Gull did put in an appearance.  Firstly, landing on the water for a wash and brush up. before disappearing within the ranks of Common Gulls.

I also quite liked this rather tired looking 1st winter Great Black-backed Gull, which are becoming very thin on the ground now.

I have managed another year tick, an Oystercatcher, that also turned up on the 5th, has been present on and off since and I first caught up with it on the 7th.

There hasn't been much else.  The pair of Shelduck are still lingering and wildfowl numbers are gradually dropping, but there have been few signs of much passage as yet.  Although, I have had some large counts of Meadow Pipits on the north side of the pit.  I counted 78 birds, all on overhead wires above a crop field, on the 8th, which is the largest count I can recall that haven't been over flying birds.

I also caught up with a flock of 320 strong Golden Plover back on the bare fields at Emmett's on the 8th.

Today sees the first returning Redshank, according to a text I've just received from Alan S.  They do not stay on site to breed, so it will be passing through.  It will have to wait for my list though, as I'm at home with my poorly son.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Interesting Gull

2nd March - well after the pleasant day on Monday, the brief period I was out today was very wintery, with squally showers and a strong, cold wind.

I managed to add Grey Wagtail to my year list at last - a female flew past the point and landed in overhanging willows.  Usually fairly common here, but surprisingly scarce so far this year.  A nice Lesser Redpoll was also feeding on the seeds of willow herb near the bench.

In my short visit, I decided to watch the gulls.  There were quite a few large gulls around too mid afternoon, which is better than normal.  Most of these were immature Herring Gulls and mostly 1st winter and they were still coming in.  I picked out a large, presumed male, 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull - a bit of a brute, just before a squally sleet shower came through and pushed many of the big gulls over to the south side on the water.  It showed a nice black tail band in flight.  Just as the sleet stopped, I picked out this interesting gull on the end of the spit.  To all intents and purposes, it looks spot on for a 1st winter Caspian Gull except that it has rather a lot of head streaking: fine streaking over the crown and more obvious streaking around the eye and ear coverts.  I do wonder about birds like this - does the head streaking point to a hybrid element, or might it be viewed as 'within variation', when all the other visible features look spot on.  Having said that, I did not have time to see if the under wing was predominantly white, so this feature may or may not have been anomalous.  All in all, a good looking bird though.

I also picked out five colour ringed birds, the most interesting of which was a Dutch ringed Black-headed Gull.  This follows on from a Polish ringed Black-headed Gull that I found on the 22nd, which had been in Southampton on the 5th - I find the movement of these birds fascinating.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Signs of Spring

29th February - although it was a cold start to the day, once the sun was up, it became very pleasant.  There was plenty of bird song around the patch and I also saw my first two butterflies of the year, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock.  Both of these species over winter as adults so are always seen before the emergent species:

Chiffchaffs were around in some numbers, some singing and a lot of fly catching.  I counted 8 in total, 7 around the lake and 1 at Emmett's fields.  I assume that these must have been here all Winter, though there may have been some local movement as the first continental birds will be arriving in a couple of weeks.

The cold start also brought the Snipe out of hiding as 16 were either feeding or sunning themselves at the base of the spit.  Last week's Water Rail was seen again feeding in the small stream that runs through the eastern paddock, but now there were two and I watched them chasing each other around for a while before going their separate ways.  I got a slightly better shot of one, though I am still digiscoping through over hanging shrubs,, so an obscured shot:

On the northern side, a vocal Ring-necked Parakeet was helping himself to leaf buds on one of the remaining poplars.

One pair of Shelduck have departed us, leaving a single pair.  At Emmett's, last week's large finch flock was nowhere to be seen, just small numbers of Chaffinches and a single Yellowhammer.  A flock of about 100 Golden Plover flew in from the north calling and then carried on to the west.

Not long now until the first summer migrants start trickling through and hopefully some interesting winter migrants on their way out together, with some waders on their way northwards.

Glauc again

27th February - Jim R found the juvenile Glaucous Gull again this afternoon.  Frustratingly, it was present mid afternoon in good light, but I was unable to get there.  I did eventually get out after 5pm and the Glauc was still there, though a little distant and now in fading light so my photo opportunity was more or less gone.  I did get a couple of phone scoped shots which are marginally better than my last efforts, but not much!

I did a bit of digging around on this bird, as it seemed likely that this was the same bird that has been visiting local sites in Bucks, Berks and Oxon over the past month.  I was also curious to see whether it might be the same bird that was first seen at Hedgerley Landfill in Bucks for a week in mid December 2015 - there was a 5 week gap between then and turning up at the Oxon roost at Sonning Eye.  Well, from what I can see from the limited photos, it does appear to be the same bird at all sites.  The main features that stand out to me are:

  • The very dusky head, breast and undersides, with a contrasting pale nape and slightly paler upper breast/throat.
  • Very similar looking covert markings, particularly on the median coverts.
  • Similar size - just larger than a Herring Gull.
  • The bill, which is not particularly big and has an identical looking black tip mark.
The photos I compared are here:

Hedgerley Landfill, December 2015: Birdguides
Knowl Hill tip, Berks, January 2016: Berksbirds
Little Marlow GP, February 2016: Bucksbirds
Not a particularly good record shot at Sonning Eye, Oxon in January 2016, though it does show the dusk head markings: Oxonbirds

The roost also had a third winter Yellow-legged Gull and a full summer Med Gull.  The Med Gull came in late onto the water and then flew into the throng of Common Gulls and disappeared before I could get a shot of it - lovely looking bird though.