Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The first returning migrants

Well it's been a fairly eventful few weeks since my last post and some interesting birds have been seen.  A return of cold weather with the 'mini beast from the east' also paid dividends.

Starting where my last post left off.........

A single Dunlin was still about on March 7th but then moved on.  My first Chiffchaff of the year was heard, though not singing, late on March 11th whilst I was going through the gull roost.  Surprisingly, not a single Chiffchaff was seen over the Winter period, which is very unusual for this site, so this bird was a migrant from somewhere.  By the 13th, there were three and numbers continued to build, as you would expect, so that by the 26th, I heard seven singing males around the lake.

On March 12th my first Redshank of the year arrived, a fairly typical first date, but as always nowadays, it only stayed the day and had gone by the following morning.  A Dunlin also flew in that morning.

Despite doing several roosts in the peak period for Med Gull passage, my next Med Gull was actually seen in the early afternoon of March 13th.  It was a lovely full summer adult, always a delight to see.

The morning of March 17th saw the return of freezing temperatures and snow flurries.  I had dropped my son off at sports club and decided to spend an hour at the lake to see whether there had been any cold weather movement of waders, as we had seen during the previous cold snap.  Viewing was not pleasant, as I had a biting easterly blowing straight into my face, but I wrapped up with multiple layers, hat, gloves and scarf and it was at least bearable for a short period.  I found my first Little Ringed Plover of the year, huddled up and still on the east side of the spit, facing the easterly and probably wondering why it had bothered to fly all this way!  About ten minutes later, a casual glance skywards and I was watching three birds flying more or less overhead and due south.  Through bins I could see that they were three Sandwich Terns, unbelievable!  I'm not surprised that they were flying south, probably hoping for some nicer weather.  I have seen an early Sandwich Tern here before, a few years ago, on March 15th - that bird unusually stayed for two days.  These three were silent as they flew and I am thankful that I looked upwards when I did or they could easily have flown over unnoticed.

On March 19th, I found a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull early on, resting on the spit.  We don't get too many of these at this time of year, so nice to see.  There were also increases in the numbers of other species, which may well have been a result of the returning cold weather: 32 Snipe were feeding out in the open on the spit; my largest flock of Fieldfare of the Winter feeding in the northern fields, 140 birds and unusually, two Meadow Pipits feeding on the spit - they are usually in the northern fields or flying over.

On March 20th, I had a brief slot where I could watch the gull roost for the last twenty minutes or so of light.  I decided to give it a go, as Dave C had seen an adult Med Gull during the afternoon - I was glad I did!  Arriving at 6:15pm, I quickly found a lovely 1st winter Caspian Gull (my attempted record shots didn't really show it clearly) and then picked out a/the adult summer Med Gull roosting head in back on the near spit, though just as I did, this portion of the roost took to the air and mainly reassembled further back - they do this all too frequently at times and it can be a bit frustrating if you have picked something out.  By 6:30pm, I decided that the light had dropped too much and was packing my scope up to leave when, looking towards the south west corner, I saw a large white bird flying and banking around.  I thought it was probably a Mute Swan, but when looking through bins, it was a clearly a large egret.  I knew this was a Great White Egret and so quickly made my way to the viewpoint.  I could see the bird through the bare branches of the trees standing on the far side of the nearest island, but it may have seen me and almost took flight.  I watched it fly towards the main island, where luckily, it landed on the dead tree branches on the south side.  I attempted to take a record photo as it flew, but my usual camera settings were not working in the failing light.  When it landed, I switched to an auto setting and managed to take a recognisable image - this was at 6:35pm.  Whilst sending out news, I took my eye off it and it disappeared, so I don't know whether it moved to the thicker trees on the island to roost or took off to another site.  Either way, it wasn't seen again.  This is still a rare bird here, though I have now seen three of the four I think have been recorded here.  The last two have been very brief visitors.

On March 21st, I paid a late visit to my Barn Owl site, which has failed to deliver so far this year.  Unfortunately, it failed again!  I did, however, get a bonus Woodcock that flew over low very late.  I was really pleased with this, as I don't think there have been any near the lake this year, so thought this was one I wasn't going to see this year.

My next visit was early on March 25th.  There had been a big overland movement of Common Scoter overnight and many had been found on local waters across the midlands.  This site is not known for Common Scoter and unfortunately it did not share in the influx.  Best I could manage was a summer plumaged Little Grebe on the south side (not that regular here) and the Cetti's Warbler, now in song, on the north side.  As I was making my way round the lake, I met Ben H who told me he'd just had a pair of Goldeneye swimming out of the south-east corner.  Now this would be good, a surprisingly scarce species here and one that I failed to see in 2017.  We made our way through the trees to the lakeside and sure enough just to the south of the main island was a splendid pair of Goldeneye. As I was pointing them out to Ben, they suddenly took flight and I watched them fly away west and over the trees.  I thought that would be the last that I saw of them, but on the 27th, whilst I was standing on the east side of the lake, a series of loud bangs went off as the bird scarer fired from across the river.  Shortly later, small flocks of Tufted Ducks started to fly in that had presumably been on Randall's lake (they often seem to prefer this lake) and then the pair of Goldeneye.  So on the 25th, they had presumably just relocated to Randall's.

March 26th was fairly uneventful, though there were three Little Ringed Plovers on the spit and the Little Grebe was still present.  Seven Chiffchaff were singing around the lake and my first Blackcap in song was also present on the east side.

March 27th saw my first arrival of Sand Martins for the year.  A single bird over mid morning was followed by a lingering flock of 20 birds feeding on a large emergence of midges in the south east corner and then another single over later on.  The morning of the 28th saw 11 more birds, with nine and two through.  It's great to see these birds back on patch, just hope the weather begins to improve for them as well.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The 'Beast from the East' delivers

The day after my last post, Feb 27th, I tried to get some better photos of the Hawfinches in the churchyard/Manor House gardens.  I did slightly better than my first attempt, but they were never easy and remained fairly elusive and usually hidden away or behind branches and foliage.  It was also difficult to be sure how many birds were there, as they never seemed to be on view at the same time.  I certainly saw four at one time, but felt that there were probably more than that.  The highest single count to date has been nine birds, seen by Jim R on the 2nd and in fact I don't think any have been seen since, so it will be interesting to see if they have moved on or are just being their normal elusive selves.


The long forecast cold easterly air, straight from Siberia, as ever nicknamed 'the beast from the east', began to take hold last week.  By mid week, there were signs of cold weather movements of birds, mainly Lapwings and Fieldfares from my own observations.  Small flocks could be seen moving west and south west ahead of the ever decreasing air temperatures. By the 28th, probably the coldest day of the week with temperatures here peaking at -3 degrees, there had been a small displacement of waders locally within the county.  There were reports of Dunlin, Ruff and even Knot from various sites.  On the 1st, I decided to take a quick look at the lake to see whether there had been any new arrivals.  I didn't stay too long because temperatures were below freezing and there was an uncomfortably strong easterly blowing, part of storm Emma.  In fact, the lake was about as empty of birds as I had ever seen it.  Only a small part of the north western arm was frozen, as the strong winds seemed to be keeping ice at bay on the main lake, but almost all of the ducks seemed to have departed and the spit looked devoid of birds.  I eventually found a lone Dunlin making its way around the spit edge near the main island, but left shortly after.

On the 2nd, Jim R made a visit in similarly horrible conditions and discovered a godwit, which he identified as a Bar-tailed, though it seemed to depart shortly after being found.  There were also now two Dunlin.

Simon R was down early on the 3rd.  The previous couple of days' snow was thawing quickly and temperatures had positively rocketed to high single figures!  He found a godwit again and assumed that it must be the previous day's bird.  By the time Graham S had joined him, despite being distant, they were sure it was Bar-tailed.  Mike M was present also and found a cracking male Goosander out on the east side of the lake.  I arrived around 10:30, quickly saw the Goosander and then made my way to the south bank to look for the Barwit, which was right at then base of the east side of the spit.  As I reached Simon and Graham, they told me that the godwit had just walked into some adjacent vegetation and was out of view.  I have no idea what this bird was doing, but an hour and a half later, when I had to leave, the bird had still not reappeared.  This was gutting, as Barwit is a rare patch bird - I have only had two previous records, both in 2011 when there was a large overland passage of this species.  Typically, later in the afternoon the Barwit reappeared on the spit.  I had to wait until 5pm to make a return visit and finally saw it reasonably close on the west side of the spit, but roosting.  Still, a great birds to see and all thanks to the weather.  There were also now three Dunlin present.  Not too far away at Dorney Lake, Dave C had found 16 Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruff and Redshank, so more displaced waders.

A good record, scarce and usually short stayers
I decided to make an earlier start on the 4th and was walking towards the lake at 7:45am.  As I did so, I heard an unfamiliar call overhead.  Looking up, I saw a gull fairly high up and flying east.  A quick look through bins revealed an adult Little Gull, superb!  It looked to still be I winter plumage and continued flying eastwards over the main island and then veered north eastwards, but kept on going.  A great start to the morning.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Barwit was still present and there were now four Dunlin.  I decided to watch from the viewpoint and managed to get some better shots of the Barwit.  An Oystercatcher flew in and the Barwit seemed very happy to join up with it and they spent some time feeding together.

Just before 9am, I noticed an adult winter Little Gull descend to the near spit and land on the water just behind it.  Could this be the same bird that I had seen over an hour ago, or was I looking at a second? I'll probably never know, as both were non-breeding adults, but whether one or two birds I didn't care as I could now spend time watching this little beauty at close range.  It decided to come out of the water and spent a few minutes standing on the spit with the Black-headed Gulls before taking flight, making the same call I had heard earlier and then flew off west over the STW.


I made my usual circuit on the morning of the 6th, the Barwit had gone, being last seen on the 5th, a stay of four days and the previous day's four Dunlin had dropped to two.  I counted the Shoveler and reached 68 birds, a reasonable total.  They always seem to build in number as Spring approaches before departing en masse.  Strangely, all the Wigeon left the site a couple of weeks ago - really odd and I'm not really sure why, but there were four Shelduck.

As I approached the northern fields, I noticed some Meadow Pipits on the wires.  They soon took flight and I counted 13 birds as they flew over the middle hedge to the field the other side.  This area often produces flocks of Mipits in the Spring as they migrate through and I have seen up to 80 birds together in the past.  I passed the hedge and began to watch the Mipits feeding in the field.  A few took flight to the top of the adjacent hedge and as I followed them, I suddenly noticed a Stonechat perched up a little bit farther up the hedge.  I am pretty sure that I would have missed this if not for the Mipits, so was well pleased.  I have only ever seen one previous Stonechat here in Spring, with most of my records being Autumn migrants.

Distant crops - bird was 80-100 yards away

With the onset of Spring upon us, I cant wait to see the returning summer birds in a few weeks, when patch birding should really take off.