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.

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