Wednesday, 26 April 2017

April catch-up

April has been a funny month weather wise, very settled, but with a lot of cold northerly winds.

After a good end to March, the year ticks continued in early April.  The first Wheatear just missed March and appeared at Pump Lane on April 1st:

This was followed on April 2nd by a pair of Peregrines circling over the lake.  I couldn't see if they were adult or not, but I do wonder where these came from.

There then followed a period of over 2 weeks when nothing new turned up, which wasn't helped by and was probably the result of the weather patterns.  Another Wheatear appeared on the spit for the day on the 12th, a nice male, but with only two records of Wheatear this month, a really poor showing for this species so far.

Distant crop!
There was an impressive arrival of Willow Warblers in early April, a species which moves through this site quite quickly - there were 9 singing males on the 13th, the following day this had risen to 15 singing birds. It dropped back to 8 singing birds on the 17th and a few days later they were all gone.

The last Redwing of the season was a bird foraging in Pump Lane fields on the 14th.

My next year tick was Reed Warbler on the 17th, with two singing birds arriving. The same morning produced a partial summer plumaged Dunlin that flew in mid morning and landed on the far side of the spit so evading photographs.

The 18th had an obvious movement of Arctic Terns in the area.  There were none on site first thing, but as I watched, one appeared mid morning with the Common Terns.  Common Tern numbers also rose to 17 that day, having been climbing steadily in 1s and 2s over the previous fortnight.  The Arctic Tern spent most of its time, as usual, flying over the eastern side of the lake, but later in the day, it did land on the spit a couple of times.

The 18th also saw the arrival of two singing Sedge Warblers and were new for the year.  Again, this species doesn't breed on site, so they all move through in the Spring.

Other expected migrants appeared over the next week, with the first singing Whitethroat being heard along the railway on the 19th, the first Common Sandpipers, two birds, arriving on the 22nd on the same day as Garden Warbler.  There were three Garden Warblers singing by the 24th.  Swifts were a little late this year, with my first birds, in fact 18, on the 24th.  The 25th produced my first Yellow Wagtail, when a calling bird flew over the lake mid morning.

Waders have been poor so far, with the obvious notable exception of the pair of Black-winged Stilts (see previous post).  Little Ringed Plovers have arrived in numbers though and six birds have been present for a while, while Oystercatchers fluctuate between a pair and three birds.

One surprising occurrence was the possible reappearance (or a new bird) of the female Black Swan that disappeared during the freezing weather in January.  This bird was pinioned, but I'm not sure if the new bird is or not.  If it is the old bird, which seems likely, where did it go for three months? Was it 'rescued' from the ice and then released?

I've also added a shot of the feral Barnacle goose that appears to be paired with a Graylag and has ben flying into the site occasionally.  And look at the brood size of this Mallard, 16 ducklings!

And to end, some shots of a Weasel that appeared below my feet as I was photographing the Arctic Tern.  This joins Stoat that I saw in March onto my patch mammal list.  Also, the pair of cavorting foxes that often come out and try and disturb the birds - they certainly stop any breeding on the spit and are often seen carrying goose eggs.

MEGA - Black-winged Stilts!!

20th April - As I left for work this morning, I fully intended to do a quick check of the pit beforehand, but for some reason, at the last minute, I decided to turn the car the other way and get into work early instead - not one of my best decisions......

Just after 10am, as I sitting in front of my computer some 70 miles away from the patch, a message came through from patch stalwart Alan S that he had found a Black-winged Stilt in front of the island, followed a short while later to say there were two!!  This is an absolute patch mega, a third record for the county following a pair in the 80s and a pair just last year, both in Milton Keynes (I suspect that over the coming years, national records are likely to increase - it was even dropped from the BBRC list of rarities this year).

Anyway, back to that absolutely fantastic find for Alan, but I couldn't help thinking that they would have been there if I had dropped in before work as intended and now I was unable to get to site before 6pm earliest!  I had an agonising day of people texting, phoning, sending pictures, whilst I was just hoping that they wouldn't flush!  I was, however, hopeful that they would stay the day, as most records seem to show onward movement after dark.

As I had got into work early, I left early too, but encountered heavy traffic and didn't pull into the car park until after 6pm.  It was raining lightly now too!  Simon R was just leaving, confirming their continued presence and I quickly made my way to the lake.  I was the only person there, but soon saw the delightful pair of Stilts wading in front of the island - a massive relief.  I now had time to enjoy them, but not for long, as one of the local foxes came charging around the spit and flushed them.  They started to fly north and gained height, their ridiculously long legs trailing behind them.  It looked like they were leaving, but then they dropped down behind the tall trees at the base of the spit, possibly looking at the old works area.  Ash S had arrived just as they disappeared and I said it may be worth a look in this area, but just as I was packing my scope up, they flew in again and landed right in front of us along the near spit.  This allowed us to get some photos, but as the light was so poor, many of them lacked proper focus.  My best efforts are below:

Often wading in deep water - the legs are very long!

Showing the length of the legs

Another showing the legs
The birds were rarely close enough together to get both in shot.  I left at about 7:20pm as I had to pick my son up, but left a few Berks birders who were hoping that they might fly the few hundred yards south over the river and into their county - there are no recent records for Berks.  If they did fly into Berks, it was well after dark and both birds had departed site by morning.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Week Off

I had most of last week off work as I was using up some holiday before the end of March.  Consequently, I spent a fair amount of time birding the patch and was able to see some nice birds as Spring migration starts to pick up.

27th March - this morning, there was an obvious small window of opportunity for observing migration as the mist of the morning was lifting and before the skies gave way to sunshine.  This was around 10-11am.

I had picked up my first Blackcaps of the year whilst walking round the lake, two males and a female in the south east corner, a further female was seen later on the north side.  There were also quite a few Meadow Pipits passing over, generally flying north west - I counted around 50 birds in several small flocks.  As I reached the east side, a steady flow of Sand Martins became obvious.  Hirundines often do this at this site in Spring, they seem to fly in off the river and head north over the lake.  If the conditions are right, they are low enough to see and quite large numbers can be logged fairly early in the season.  I stayed watching these birds for some time to see if I could see my first Swallow.  Surprisingly, a single House Martin passed through, but no Swallows.  This is my second earliest House Martin record.

There were quite a few Black-headed Gulls hawking low over the lake, but at about 11am, I noticed two other gulls descending from height.  A quick look through bins and I could see they were adult Little Gulls, still in winter plumage.  This is a good record for this site that often seems to miss out on Little Gull passage when other local sites pick them up, but was obviously a consequence of the easterly wind.  I managed to take a few flight shots (I've never been able to do this before!) as they hawked over the lake - beautiful gulls.  They stayed on site for about an hour before rising up and continuing on their journey.

Whilst watching the Little Gulls, a large, noisy flock of about 100 Wigeon flew over me from the east - more migration!  About half the flock descended to the lake, but others carried on.  A pair of cronking Raven also flew low over the lake from the east.  Later, a single bird flew over west and later still, another single bird was circling high over the lake.  There were also still 68 Shoveler on site, groups of males often flying around chasing the females - they often stay late in to the Spring here, but will soon be gone.

28th March - nothing new seen on this day, though the reappearance or new arrival of a second drake Garganey was notable.

29th March - My first Swallows of the year came through this morning, two birds with about 75 Sand Martins.  I heard three singing Blackcaps and had my first Lesser Redpolls of the year when three birds flew over calling.  Meadow Pipits were still passing over, though just 14 birds this morning.  A presumed feral Barnacle Goose flew in with a Greylag and a single Siskin passed over.  Little Ringed Plovers and Shelduck still present.

Massive crop!

Just before school pick up, I decided to try the small lakes on the west side of the patch that I hadn't visited in a while.  As usual, these were fairly quiet, but as I was leaving the Roach pit an Osprey flew directly over me at very low height.  I watched it through bins, then thought I ought to try and get a record shot.  However, the camera was in its bag and by the time I had got it out, taken the lens cap off and extended the zoom, The Osprey had flown over the Marlow bypass and was continuing at low height right over the centre of Marlow.  I tried, but in the low light (it was very overcast) and at distance, I failed to get the bird in the viewfinder before it disappeared.  The bird appeared to be tracking just north of the river Thames and I assume it had come off the Thames when it first flew over me.  I wouldn't be surprised if it actually flew over Marlow high street, which would have been some sight!  This is the first Osprey I have seen in March and only my third on patch and the first for a few years.

30th March - there was nothing obviously new in when I first arrived in the morning, but by the time I had reached the south east corner, I picked up a Common Tern hawking the south west corner, having obviously just arrived.  This is my earliest Common Tern record in Bucks and only my second ever March record.  I retraced my steps to get a record shot as the bird often rested a small lump of wood near the spit.

I continued my walk around the lake and heard seven singing Blackcaps, an obvious increase, and my first Willow Warblers of the year.  In fact two birds, one in the north east corner and one near the works.

There is also lots of Great Crested Grebe display going on a the moment, with several pairs on the lake.

31st March - with lots of local Sandwich Terns around this morning, I was hopeful of picking one up on the lake, as it does fairly well for this species.  However, my arrival at 8:50am may have been too late and none were seen.  There was a good passage of hirundines though and my estimates for the morning were about 150 Sand Martins, about 20 Swallows and a single House Martin.

Three Little Ringed Plovers were chasing each other around the site and later became four.

So not a bad few days.  I've picked up all the migrants I would hope to see in March, plus a few more, and am only missing Wheatear.  My best patch areas for Wheatear are the fields and paddocks in Pump Lane, but these have failed to produce any as yet.

Catch up post

This post is an attempt to catch up with records over the past few weeks, so will be quite long!

The previous Ferruginous Duck post missed out a few year records, so here goes.........

18th Feb - having missed out on Barn Owl completely in 2016, I was pleased to get good views of a quartering bird at the west end of the patch in reasonable light.  On the same evening in the roost, a 2nd winter Med Gull appeared.

20th Feb - I missed the first record of Oystercatcher for the year, but caught up with a bird on this date.

Since then, up to three birds have been fairly regular.

25th Feb - having seen nothing in the gull roost, my wait at the car park was rewarded with two Woodcock flying over towards the meadows north of the STW - it was almost dark!

28th Feb - Emmett's fields have been poor for birds this winter, with no sizeable finch or bunting flocks as have been seen in other years.  I was pleased therefore, to see three Yellowhammers there on this date.

4th March - Large gull numbers in the roost have been down on previous years and may be a reflection of the winding down of the landfill at Hedgerley.  This 1st winter Caspian Gull is my only one this year and came in very late when the light had gone, so excuse the poor record.

6th March - a red letter day, as although not a patch tick, I had only my second record of Brambling and the first one around the lake itself.  This female bird was in the south east corner and accompanied a female Chaffinch, so hardly a finch flock!

14th March - my first migrant wader of the Spring in the form of a Redshank

17th March - quickly followed by my first Little Ringed Plovers and Sand Martins

20th March - another great morning on patch!  Seeing a drake Garganey in the Spring is always one of the season's highlights, so I was delighted to find this one on the east side of the spit, though thankfully it eventually flew to the much closer near spit - shame it was an overcast day.

Remarkably, as Alan S and I were watching the Garganey, I noticed a Brent Goose coming in to land just off the tip of the near spit.  I quickly grabbed some shots as it swam into the middle of the south part of the lake.  Then, after just a few minutes on site, it took off, flew north gaining height and then departed west over the STW.  We surmised that the sharp shower had brought the bird down and as soon as it stopped, it continued on its way.  There has been an amazing run of records of this species on patch.  This is the third I have found here since last September, all dark-bellied and all adults (I think this bird is an adult).  Alan only ticked the species on patch with last November's bird and he has been coming here for a quarter of a century!

Luckily, the Garganey found the lake to his liking and he stayed for over a week.  Strangely, a good hunt around on the 27th and the morning of the 28th failed to find him, but a drake reappeared on the spit on the afternoon of the 28th.  Whether this was the same bird that had just found a place to hide for a day and a half, or another drake that came in just for the afternoon of the 28th (and not seen since), I will never know - either scenario sounds plausible.

Some other pictures from the period: Shelduck have been ever present with 1-3 birds hanging out; Grey Wagtails have been a bit thin on the ground so far, so this bird feeding in a puddle was nice to watch; Linnets have found the area of cleared Poplars to the north of the lake to their liking and a small flock can generally be found there; the small population of Ring-necked Parakeets can generally be heard squawking noisily, but this bird was watched feeding on the newly emerging tree buds.