Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Early Jack Snipe

September 23rd - winter species have been dropping in and often moving on over the past couple of weeks: Wigeon have peaked at about 25 birds so far (on the 18th, the same day as the Brent Goose), but there are often only single figures; Teal also peaked at about 40 birds (also 18th), but there are usually fewer; there are occasional Shoveler records and still only a handful of Pochard, whilst Snipe appeared to peak at 17 on the 19th and numbers seem to have fallen away since, with 15 seen on the 21st and this morning only 11 could be seen feeding around the base of the spit.

I had scanned these birds from the bench a couple of times to confirm the number and then moved to the viewpoint.  There have been 1-2 Common Sands present for weeks and again, I saw one this morning.  From the point, I scanned back through the Snipe on the spit and then continued scanning further along the edge where the vegetation becomes more rank and reedy, as this often holds further birds.  I soon came across another snipe feeding along the edge, but it was quickly obvious that this was no ordinary Snipe but a Jack Snipe, its dark crown being the initial diagnostic feature.  I moved back around to get a closer look - I do like these little birds.  It was slowly feeding, out in the open, along the edge of the bank, bobbing away as they do and it was nice to be able to scrutinise its plumage features as it did so.  I took a record shot, but not too easy of a small bird still a fair way off.

This is only my third patch record of this often elusive species, which used to more commonly observed here.  Maybe the maturing vegetation has had an effect either on numbers or viewing conditions.  It remained all day and apart from when it went to sleep slightly behind leaves, stayed in a little stretch of the bank and showed to all comers.  Again, a slightly early date to pick this up as they are just coming in on the coast, though my first record here was Sept 30th 2010.

To cap off a good morning, as I walked further around the lake and scanned back over the spit, I found a male Stonechat feeding on the small stretch of longer vegetation that hasn't yet been mowed down.  Two year ticks in the morning.  The bird was well over 200 yards away, so my record shots are just that! In fact the second shot was from the eastern side of the lake, which is even further.

Late (ish) Spot Fly

September 19th - with the evenings drawing in, my after work visit today gave me just enough time to peruse the gull roost.  There were good numbers of gulls considering the time of year, with an estimated 800 BHG being the bulk of them and smaller numbers of Herring and LBBG.  There were also three Common Gulls, an adult and two 1st winters and the regular adult Yellow-legged Gull.  I eventually managed to locate two different 1st winter Med Gulls in different parts of the roost, both fairly well advanced into 1st winter, though one had a slightly dirtier looking head than the other.  Given the poor and fading light, I didn't even attempt a photo.

Considering the previous morning had yielded 8 Snipe, it was good to count 17 this evening, with new birds arriving at a good rate.

September 20th - I was conscious that Spot Fly was not yet on the year list and time was gradually ebbing away.  I had tried all the usual areas many times, but was beginning to think that my absence in the back half of August might have cost me this species.  So, I was very happy to find a juvenile bird feeding in willows on the north side of the lake this morning.  It flicked in over my head and I watched it for a few minutes whilst it carried out a couple of sorties for insects, before it disappeared behind me.  Viewing in this spot is quite enclosed, so I walked to the northern field line and looked back towards the trees hoping to pick it up again (and take a record shot), but I couldn't find it and assumed that it had moved on through.  A very welcome addition to the year list and I breathed a sigh of relief.

There were still a few warblers about too. Apart from the ubiquitous Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, a single Willow Warbler and two Reed Warblers were on the north side of the lake and a rather elusive Lesser Whitethroat was feeding in a hedge by the car park.

Unseasonal Brent Goose

18th September - I made a morning visit to the lake, not particularly early, but was there just after 8am.  On arrival, I found Jim R standing near the western bench taking photos of the small group of Snipe that had been building in recent days.  This morning there were eight birds near the base of the spit.  We had a quick chat and then began to scan the birds on the spit.  Almost immediately, I came across a Brent Goose standing on the near spit and called this out to Jim - he had just come across it too.  I wanted to grab some record shots, but annoyingly my scope kept misting up.  I decided that the viewpoint would give me a closer view and so walked over there.  Annoyingly, during the fifty yard walk, the goose had left the spit and was now swimming away towards the island.  With a mist free scope I was now able to take some shots.  It swam to the far side of the bay and then climbed out, so I got some further shots of it on land.  Due to the low light, all are less sharp than I would have liked, but good enough for a record.

The bird was an adult dark-bellied and must have been one of the first back in the country for the Winter, as the date seems very early.  This is only my second patch record of a scarce patch bird, my first was a rather remarkable pale-bellied bird in Emmett's fields on 15th November 2013 - see here

The goose was on its own, but the resident flocks of Greylags and Canadas started to arrive from riverside fields mid morning and soon the spit was covered with hundreds of them.  The Brent Goose carried on making its way around the edge of the spit and Jim and I last saw it preening on the eastern side of the spit at about 9:45am.  Further visits by other birders at 10:30 and later in the day failed to find it again.

More chats and starts

Since my initial sightings of Whinchat and Redstart on the 6th, over the following couple of weeks, I came across another female type Redstart and three more Whinchats.

The Redstart was another frustratingly brief view.  I found the bird on the 14th sitting on top of a pile of turf at the top end of Emmett's fields.  As soon as I saw it, it saw me and darted back into an adjacent stretch of game cover.  I was looking against the light, so decided to carry on along the path past where I had seen the bird and then hope that it reappeared for a record shot.  After about half an hour, with no further sign, I had to leave, so another Redstart with no record photo.

On the 11th, I found a confiding Whinchat in a weedy field along Pump Lane.  It remained faithful to a small area of this field near the northern fence line for three days, allowing a better record shot than my last attempt!

On the 12th, another Whinchat was feeding in a low cut stubble field at Emmett's.  It was always against the light, so the record shot is just that!

And the final bird was seen on the 22nd in exactly the same spot in the same weedy field in Pump Lane, obviously attractive to chats - I'll have to keep checking it for Stonechat.

An interesting non-avian record came on the 12th.  A couple of years ago, I had come across a Red Underwing moth resting high up on a telegraph pole - I think my attention had been drawn by a flick of its wings.  Anyway, I was passing the same pole on the 12th and remembering this previous encounter just scanned it with my bins.  To my surprise, in almost exactly the same position, was another Red Underwing - not a scarce moth, but one that I don't see too often.  I'm not sure what makes this pole so attractive to them, but suspect that it is pretty well camouflaged and also quite warm to rest up during the day.  It was not accessible for a close photo, so I had to resort to phonescoping from about 60 yards away - I'm surprised that any shot came out at all!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Two more to the cause

September 6th - this was my first day since mid July when I could devote some proper time to birding the patch as both children had returned to school.  I had a plan - I was still missing Redstart, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher for the year.  Time was passing, but this is still a good date to pick these species up, so I intended to cover those areas of the patch that had been neglected in order to maximise my opportunities.

I started at the lake, not a good place for at least two of the three, but it was overcast and muggy so it's always worth checking for passing waders or terns.  Actually, since my last post, the single juvenile Black Tern has stayed throughout, this being its 10th day on site, emulating a juvenile bird that stayed for a fortnight back in September 2013.  A juvenile Dunlin also turned up on the 1st and was still present for its 6th day this morning.  A probable Pec Sand was reported from this site on the day the Dunlin turned up, by observers unknown - I am hoping that this was a case of mistaken identity rather than a mega gone missing.  It was checked out an hour or two after the report surfaced but only the Dunlin was present.

A couple of Common Sands were still bobbing around, there have been up to three recently, and the regular adult Yellow-legged Gull was also present.  A small influx of Teal, nine birds, a couple of Shoveler and a small group of four Pochard were the only slightly interesting water fowl.

Having checked out the lake, I decided to do a circuit, taking in the riverside meadows, the often productive railway bank and making my way to the northern fields and hedgerows.  The first of these drew a blank, however, the northern area looks quite interesting at the moment since the removal of the poplars last year.  There has been a small amount of regeneration and birds are more obvious here than they used to be.  I spent a while scanning a hedge line that separates the two fields, as there were a few birds moving around amongst the thick vegetation.  There were a lot of Robins, but I picked out a couple of juvenile Whitethroats, possibly a sign of successful breeding.  I eventually made my way along the path and passed through the end of the hedge, as I did so, a bird flew from right next to me and followed the hedge northwards.  I got it in my bins as it flew and was confronted with a brownish bird with a bright rusty red tail with darker central tail feathers - a Redstart! I watched it fly into the hedge, noted its position and carried on along the path to get a better viewing angle.  As I did this, I sent out news, as this is a rare bird around the lake itself and I knew that Alan S needed it for a patch tick.  He was on his way.  I continued to watch the area of thick hedge where it flew in, but after a while had had no further views.  I retraced my steps to watch the other side of the hedge and still got nothing further.  Alan had arrived by this point, so I met up with him and we both continued to watch - still nothing.  I retraced my steps again so that we were watching one side of the hedge each - still nothing.  After more than an hour, I gave up and left Alan to it.  He gave it 2 hours and drew a blank.  Who knows what happened to it, but I was happy with the year tick and one of my quarry down.

Next, I walked along the track to the athletics track, as this is where I have had Whinchat in the last couple of years.  Nothing of note today.  Then I visited Emmett's farm, which I hadn't been to in several months.  The area just by the last farm buildings was most productive.  I could hear lots of twittering Linnets together with Yellow Wagtail calls as I walked up.  The Linnets were feeding on low seed heads and also using a small puddle to drink and bathe.  When they flew up in a flock, they numbered around 200 birds, so have obviously had a great breeding season.  The Yellow Wagtails were sort of with the Linnets, though they kept flying up to the guttering of the last barn as there was a small stretch that had retained rain water, which they were using much as the Linnets were using the puddle.  I counted four birds and also rather a smart moulting White Wagtail with them.  A record of one of the birds is below:

Next stop was Pump Lane paddocks, which has been the best site over the years for both Wheatear and Whinchat, though I actually drew a blank with Whinchat here last year.  After a while scanning all the fence lines over what is quite a large site, I eventually picked up a small blob on a very distant fence to the north of the site which looked quite promising.  I set the scope up and was soon enjoying a Whinchat, so a further success with my plan.  The poor record shot below is a result of the vast distance the photo was taken from, but is just about recognisable.

There was a further large flock of Linnets at this site too, around 100 birds.  300 Linnets on patch brings a smile to my face.

So that was that for my birding outing, very enjoyable and very successful, with two out of three target birds found, Spot Fly next!