Sunday, 31 December 2017

The end of 2017

Apologies for the lack of recent updates on this blog, I hadn't realised that my last post was so long ago!
Well 2017 has come to end as far as patch birding goes and I have finished on 146 species out of a total patch list of 149, completely smashing my previous best of 136.  My only misses this year have been Goldeneye, with just a single record way back on Jan 5th; two Cranes that were reported flying from or over the lake in May by local resident Steve Backshall; and a fly through Marsh Harrier on Oct 13th, so pretty good really.

I added two more species (though saw three!) since my last update in November, though November itself was a blank month and my only blank month of the year.  The first of these was Merlin, which is also a patch first for me and extremely scarce here nowadays.  I had been watching the gull roost on the December 2nd and just given up as the light was fading and making my way up the west bank when the distinctive silhouette of a Merlin flew low south down the west bank just a few yards from me.  I've no idea if this was a local bird that had been hunting the fields and was looking for a place to roost or just a lucky fly through, but whichever, it was a great addition to the list.  There were reports of possible Merlin on subsequent days, but nothing was confirmed.

The second and last addition to the year was on December 11th when I found a Jack Snipe huddled up on the spit along with 54 Common Snipe, though it remained separate to these birds.  It was a nice grip back, having missed a bird seen in January.  I didn't attempt a photo as it was quite distant when I saw it, but it came closer later on and Jim R managed this record shot:

My third new species was Grey Partridge, but as these were a tight flock of 12 amongst the game cover on Emmett's, I presumed that they were released birds and did not count them.  I can't help but think that most of the Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges that are seen and counted are from similar stock though, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh on myself.

I've added a few photos of other notable birds seen in November/December:

Dunlin on Nov 7th
12 of 14 Little Egrets on Nov 13th - good numbers still present
I last saw the regular Goosander on Nov 28th
5 Pintail were present for a single day on Nov 29th

Record of an adult Caspian Gull in the roost on Dec 2nd

A Cetti's Warbler is still around, but doesn't like his picture taken!
I found a nice, dainty adult Yellow-legged Gull in the roost on Dec 12th, but failed to take any photos. Jim R took a record shot here:

A trip to the roost yesterday, the 30th, found a Shelduck just in time for the new year! and still excellent numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls, with 143 counted, but any white wingers will have to wait for 2018.  Paul W had three Caspian Gulls, two 1st winters and a 3rd winter, in the roost on Dec 24th, so hopefully this species won't be too hard next year either.

So that's about it for 2017, an excellent year by all accounts.  I'll post a photographic summary of the highlights shortly.  Here's hoping 2018 is equally as good - or even better!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

More Hawfinches and incoming ducks

On 27th October, Paul W discovered three redhead Goosanders on the east side of the lake.  Unfortunately, I was at work with no chance of getting to see them before dark, so I assumed that this would be my second dip of this species this year.  I'd missed a male in March by a matter of minutes, as this species is prone to flying off fairly quickly from this site, so I held little hope of this current three staying overnight.

I was by the lakeside early on the 28th, not much after sun rise.  There was some low lying mist/fog rolling over the lake, not unusual for here, so I spent the first hour or so vismigging from the west bank, as the sky was relatively clear.  The most noticeable thing was a south westerly passage of Woodpigeons and 475 had passed over by 8:30, there were also 66 Fieldfare (over NW in three flocks), 63 Redwing, 11 Meadow Pipits, seven Lesser Redpolls and two Siskins.  Two Water Rails had a squabble in the reed bed in front of me and a third called from the base of the spit, so nice to see these returning for the winter.

Shooting had started up to the west of me, presumably on Randall's, as flocks of aythyas began to fly in from that direction.  They all flew to the east side and mostly out of view from where I was, but a quick scan revealed four Red-crested Pochards, two males and two females.  Only the second record this year, following a male in February.  I walked around the lake to get a better view, all the time searching in vain for yesterday's Goosander.  A Cetti's Warbler called from the south bank, the first time I've had one for a while, so nice to know at least one is still here.  The RCPs were never close, so I only managed record shots.

I had a good hunt for the Goosander, including Works Bay on the north east side where they were yesterday, but drew a blank, so it was a bit galling to see that they were reported again later in the day.  I can only assume that they were tucked in the small arm on the north west side at the time I was there, as I didn't check this small area.

I was at the lake again on Sunday morning, but not until relatively late at 9:30am.  I had just got out of the car and started walking the small road past the cottages to the lake when I heard some tzikking calls overhead, rather like a sharp Redwing.  Looking up I was amazed to see a flock of Hawfinches passing over.  They were very low, just above the height of the tallest trees and flew directly over my head in an ESE direction, passing over the back gardens of the cottages and then veered more south easterly to fly towards the lake.  Through bins, I had excellent views of their large bills, broad wings with large white primary bar, short tails and counted ten birds - an amazing sight.  This has been a fantastic influx and it's been great fun looking out for them passing through locally.  I've now seen 19 birds split between my garden and the lake.

This was a great start to my visit and it got better when I reached the lakeside and found the three Goosander were still present and were just off the spit.  It is quite surprising that these birds have decided to stay here for so long and in fact they were still present on the 31st, so that's at least five days so far.  They are all redheads, but I think they are possibly two juvenile males and a female.

I didn't see too much that was different on the 30th, though I did manage some reasonable views of Little Grebe, a species that is just occasional here - I think that the shot below is reminiscent of the style of an Ian Lewington painting.  I also found that a nice male Ferruginous x Pochard hybrid was here, presumably the same bird that here sporadically last winter.  However, I didn't actually see it, but found it in one of my Goosander photos when reviewing them last night!  I've cropped it out below and it was right on the edge of the shot and not in focus, so just a record.

Finally, yesterday, the 31st, I found three Pintail on the east side, a moulting male and two females.  Yet again, they found their way into Works Bay, which seems to be a favoured site for wildfowl. These are the first on patch this year and represent my 144th species for the year so far, a year that is breaking all my records.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

GWE and Hawfinch!

The 18th October was a bit overcast and grey, almost on the verge of mist for most of the day.  I popped in to the lake first thing before work but in a brief visit didn't see much out of the ordinary.  I decided to take a late lunch break and made another quick visit.

Arriving at 2:30pm, the first thing I noticed was a large white bird on the back of the spit in front of the island.  I don't get too excited on seeing large white birds, as more often than not they are feral geese.  However, it didn't take long to lift the bins and see that this time the white bird was in fact a Great White Egret!  Pretty pleased with that and only my second on patch following a bird seen in March 2015, which in itself was the first verified record.  So although they are becoming more and more regular, this is still a rare bird on patch.  The egret spent much of the time I watched it just standing and doing the odd bit of preening.  The ever excitable geese didn't help in calming it down either and after just fifteen minutes of watching it, it took off, circled around the back of the island and flew over the trees on the southern bank and on over the Thames into Berkshire and over Cock Marsh.

Some of the locals had made a start in twitching it, but had not had time to make it, so we surmised where it might pitch up.  In fact, we all got it wrong, as about an hour later, what surely must have been the same bird arrived at Staines Reservoirs.  Not the first time birds have moved between these two sites, presumably linked by the Thames, I have also had Sandwich Terns move from here to Staines and had a male Hen Harrier move from Staines Moor to here.

Record shots in poor light and about 200 yards distance:

On Oct 19th, I was able to make the gull roost, and it was nice to see plenty of large gulls on site too.  There were in excess of 600 Herring Gulls, usually the most numerous of the large gulls here, about 70 LBBG, 7 GBBG (all adults), c20 Common Gulls (building up) and c300 Black-headed Gulls.  A very nice 1st winter Caspian Gull arrived at c6pm, only my second this year following a brief bird at a roost back in January and there were also three Yellow-legged Gulls present (2 adults, including the regular bird, and a 1st winter that decided to fly off soon after I spotted it).

A fantastic feature of this autumn has been the phenomenal arrival of Hawfinches from the continent.  Birds are being logged at all sorts of sites, not just the usual vismig localities.  In fact, I had seen two birds on the 16th fly over my garden that looked to be landing in trees in the adjacent woodland.  With so many birds about, I was hopeful of seeing one on patch.  On the 17th, whilst standing and watching on the south bank, I was pretty sure I could hear one calling as it flew over, but try as I might I just couldn't pick it up even though it sounded very close.  However, on the 20th, I hadn't been on site too long when again I heard a distinctive call coming from my left (the north).  It didn't take long before a Hawfinch came into view, calling as it flew.  It flew over the spit, banked slightly and then continued south over the trees - fantastic! Hopefully there will be more if I get time to look, as I had five more birds this morning (25th) from the garden.  This is just my second Hawfinch on patch following a bird that spent some time around the church in the early part of 2006.

There have also been a few waders on patch this last week (makes a change!).  A Green Sandpiper flew south over the west side, calling as it went, on the 17th, a Ringed Plover arrived on the 19th and was still present on the 22nd (unusual for October) and a Dunlin joined the Ringed Plover for the day on the 20th.

A fly through Marsh Harrier was reported on the 13th, as too was a Firecrest with a tit flock on the north side.  My attempt at the Firecrest brought me three Lesser Redpolls in trees before flying off, another species that has been much in evidence over the past few weeks, mainly flying over but with the occasional bird landing.

So I've now reached 142 species for the year out of 147 species, missing Goldeneye, Goosander, Crane, Marsh Harrier and Jack Snipe.  I'm sure there's still more to come!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Yellow-browed Warbler and new record!

This is the 5th year that I have been seriously year listing my patch, though I did have a go in 2012 as well.  Annual totals have been remarkably consistent given that the overall make-up differs from year to year:

2012: 130
2013: 136
2014: 136 (plus Siberian Chiffchaff)
2015: 135 (plus Siberian Chiffchaff)
2016: 133 (plus Siberian Chiffchaff)

This year has been going along very nicely and you can see from the totals on the right that the Spotted Redshank on Sept 1st put me on 133 for the year with 4 months still to go and several 'easy' species still to see.  So I was very hopeful of beating my previous best and hopefully breaking through the 140 barrier.

Well I didn't have to wait too long for the next new species.  Simon R texted me on Sept 10th saying that he had found a couple of Ruff.  I was soon down there and enjoying two juvenile birds, a male and female showing a distinct difference in their sizes.  Ruff is just about annual, so it is easy to miss them during any year and a nice one to get.

The same day saw my last Swift of the year pass overhead.


On Sept 11th, I came across only my second patch Marsh Tit. Both records have been in September and presumably relate to dispersing birds.  This one was feeding in a hedge at Pump Lane and gave itself away by being quite vocal, though it spent all the time I watched it on its own, happily feeding away.

This put me on 135 for the year and just a single species to match my best ever.

Early September had seen quite a few Yellow Wagtails passing through, often seen feeding around the cattle in Spade Oak meadow.  However, I was pleased to see my largest flock yet on Sept 13th when at least 45 birds were around the cattle.  They were not easy to see on the ground as the grass was too long, but they were quite flighty and at one point all took to the air.

Passage Yellow-legged Gulls have been well down this year on previous years and doesn't bode well for future sightings of LWHG as I suspect that it is related to the running down of Hedgerley landfill.  Hopefully I will be proved wrong! There has been a very regular adult, but on the 16th, I had a juvenile, which sadly was my first this year. Typically, at this time of year, it had moulted all of its scapulars and a fair few coverts as well.

On Sept 18th, I had my largest flock of Ravens on patch when a party of five birds, possibly a family group, spent some time soaring over the north side of the lake with Red Kites and Buzzards.

Having seen my first returning Great Black-backed Gull on the 11th, an adult bird, it was nice to see a juvenile on the 18th.  I can't remember seeing birds in this plumage here before, though obviously 1st winters are regular enough in the winter.

I was getting very worried about both Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher.  Both are regular enough, particularly Whinchat, but I had seen neither species so far this year and time was ticking.  However, on Sept 19th, I was extremely pleased (and relieved) to find a 1st winter Spotted Flycatcher feeding away in a small clump of bushes at the top of Emmett's fields.  This would prove to be my only record of the year! The same day saw my last migrant Sedge Warbler of the year.

This bird put me on 136 species for the year, equalling my best ever and it was still only mid September!

On Sept 24th, Jim R texted to say he had three smallish terns on the east side of the lake.  As I was nearby, I was quickly on site on the east side and found three Common Terns, but on looking, there were actually five birds dipping about the lake.  They hadn't been there earlier in the day so had arrived mid morning.  Whilst watching the terns, a Yellow Wagtail flew over calling and will probably be my last of the year.

The forecast for the 25th was damp with easterly winds, so I was hopeful that there would be something good on site.  I was not disappointed to find two moulting adult Black Terns together with an adult Common Tern.

Another hunt around the patch for the ever dwindling chance of Whinchat almost paid off when I discovered a distant chat on the fence line next to the athletics track, which is a favoured spot for this species.  However, it turned out to be a male Stonechat - still new for year, but not the chat I was hoping for at this stage.

The 26th was fairly uneventful, though I did see my first Water Rail of the Autumn.  However, there was an intriguing situation - as I stood in the big swim on the south side of the south-east corner, I thought a heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call from the other side of the corner - a distance of about 80 yards or so.  I only heard it once and went straight over to the area it came from.  I stood around there for some time but saw and heard nothing further so wrote it off.  However, on the 27th, I was passing the same spot (between fishing pegs 28 and 27 just north of the south-east corner) when for some reason, I decided to look into the gloom of a bush where a Chiffchaff had just chased another presumed Chiffchaff only to find that the chased bird was in fact a Yellow-browed Warbler!!!! I saw its long yellow supercilium and two wing bars clearly before it disappeared into the pretty dense vegetation in that area.  I quickly sent out messages to the locals and county grapevine just as the bird called a couple of times - surely this bird had been here the previous day!

The first man on site was Dave P, but this bird was extremely uncooperative.  It only called occasionally and spent long periods of time not calling at all, plus the area it had chosen was very difficult to view, quite thick and dense.  As we watched the bush in which I had first seen the bird, I thought I had it again, as a small green bird with an obvious supercilium half hidden by leaves made its way towards us.  "Here it is" I said, just as the bird materialised as a Firecrest!  Unbelievable! Only my second on patch, despite them breeding only a few miles away - this had turned into a classic morning.

By now, a few more of the regulars were on site.  We were treated to a prolonged period of Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but could still not see it. After a while, I decided to play its call briefly to see if it would respond.  It did (and this was the only time that it did when I tried, so this was kept to a minimum) and appeared in open branches just above our heads giving everyone a good view.  It didn't last long however and it was off again.

Remarkably, the bird stayed fairly faithful to a small area of vegetation in the same general vicinity for the next five days and departed overnight on Oct 2nd.  A great bird to have on patch and eventually seen by all who wanted to visit.  Photos were never easy and I failed to get any, but Mick V who came over on the 2nd managed a couple of corkers, linked here. Needless to say this was a site first and only about the 9th county record.

Probably my last Willow Warbler of the year was seen on Sept 29th moving through the same area of vegetation as the YBW.

Back to birding normality after the excitement of the YBW and I notched up my 140th species of the year this morning - a number I was hoping for and seemed more and more likely as the year went on.  I hadn't seen much on arrival, six Snipe down from nine yesterday, 15 Wigeon, still quite low in number and no calling Cetti's this morning - there had been one singing near the west bench yesterday and a second male is often singing on the north-east side.  I made my way to the south bank.  A small passage of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits kept me busy, going over in 2s and 3s.  At 9:15am I noticed a wader flying over the spit being chased by about 10 Jackdaws.  Through bins I could see it was a Ruff.  It banked over the trees and came back round over the spit.  As I watched it, I noticed a distant line of birds flying west over Emmett's fields.  I was hopeful that these were Golden Plover, a species I had not seen earlier in the year, so I quickly used my scope and indeed they were Goldies, about 20 of them, they continued west then north-west.  These had distracted me from the Ruff, which had obviously not taken to being chased around and had not landed, but nice to get a second record this year.

So with 140 reached, how much further can it go?  There are still some reasonable chances of further species: Whinchat has probably bitten the dust (unbelievably!), though there is still time - my latest local record is Oct 14th; Pintail and Goldeneye should make an appearance and Goosander is possible; Jack Snipe might well turn up and then there are the scarcer birds such as wild swans, owls and maybe another Hen Harrier, who knows? But I will enjoy searching.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


My second visit to the patch since my holiday was a quick one before work on Sept 1st.  I didn't see much out of the ordinary on my initial scans, though at this time of day from the west bank, viewing is always difficult as you are looking into the sun.  I made my way down the bank to get a more northerly view in better light and began scanning the birds on the spit again.  It was at this stage that I noticed a medium sized, long and straight billed wader on the far side of the spit.  Distance and lighting were not in my favour, but it looked good for a Spotted Redshank.  It promptly disappeared behind the bank, so I had no choice but to walk around to the southern bank to get a look up the east side of the spit.

It took a few minutes to get there, but when I did, the east bank was a awash with geese and I could see no waders at all!  Unfortunately the main island creates a large area of hidden spit behind which was presumably my bird.  I began to walk back, scanning as I went and eventually found the wader walking along the southern part of the spit.  Now in good light, but still distant, it was clearly a juvenile Spotted Redshank.  I tried taking some record shots, but at distance, it was pretty hopeless.

I decided to walk back around as the bird was now probably closer to the west bank.  However, as I made my way up the west bank, it took flight calling.  I could hear it calling and defining its southward path, but could not see it, but it decided to bank around and landed on the spit in front of the island - distant again! The bird was becoming quite edgy and began calling quite a bit and then took flight again.  This time it landed closer to the near spit where I was able to get a better record shot, albeit into the sun.

I had taken far too long and work beckoned so I had to leave.  The Spotshank was still there when I left, but 10 minutes later when Jim R arrived, it had gone.  It was obviously not happy and had continued on its way.

Spotted Redshank is pretty scarce on patch and this is only my second record following a moulting adult in April 2013.  Funnily enough, another juvenile turned up this morning (I should mention London buses now....), which was not there when I checked in the morning, but was found by Alan S at 10am.

1st record at huge distance but shows open wings

Closer and slightly better but into the sun

Wednesday, 30 August 2017


I have been away on a family holiday since August 12th, so this is an update on the best birds seen since my last post on July 26th up to going away.

On July 29th, an early morning visit found a moulting adult Black-tailed Godwit feeding on the spit amongst the gulls.  It didn't stay long though, as at 7am, when the gulls spooked (as they often do), it flew off.  A moulting adult Dunlin flew in at 6:45am, but was never close enough for photos and a juvenile LRP was also present.

A brief visit after work on August 4th, found a Green Sandpiper, surprisingly scarce this year and only my second so far.  It didn't stay long and flew off south calling.  The following morning I was out early and had some good results: I watched  a distant Curlew fly steadily north to the east of the pit at 7am, a good year tick and not seen every year; presumably the previous day's Green Sandpiper was back on the spit, but it flew off again at 7:15am, this time to the west; two juvenile LRPs flew in at 7:30am; a Cetti's Warbler was heard scolding and then seen in the north east corner near the bench and was presumably the bird I'd seen in July, though it hadn't been reported in between and finally after my circuit and returning to watch the spit, a juvenile Greenshank, the first of the year, flew in and started feeding along the spit.

The following morning, August 6th, I was out early again and this time was rewarded with three moulting adult Sandwich Terns that flew in calling at 7:30am and immediately flew to and landed on the spit.  They looked pretty tired and began to roost and actually stayed until late morning, though weren't reported after 11am.  We do quite well for Sandwich Terns here, though these are my first since three in September 2013 and I was away on holiday last August when a flock of 13 birds was around for much of the day.  I also had a Yellow Wagtail fly over east calling and this morning the Cetti's Warbler was heard calling, then seen briefly on the southern bank, so it moves around a bit.

During a brief visit before work on August 10th, I heard another Sandwich Tern calling quite near to where I was standing, but my view was heavily obscured by lakeside trees and I never actually saw the bird/s that obviously flew straight through - rather frustrating! And another brief visit after work when seven Common Sandpipers were present, five had arrived during the day (found by Kevin H) and were joined by the regular two.  Four LRPs, an adult and three juveniles, were still there as well.

My final bird of note before my holiday was during another quick visit before work on August 11th.  This time, a juvenile Med Gull was seen to fly in at 7:30am and landed amongst the gulls on the spit.

Other interesting sightings have included a Common Tern that had acquired its winter plumage quite early and had an almost solidly black bill.

The ease of seeing Kingfishers, as yet another brood were being fed around the lake edges.

And more Roe Deer.....