Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Migrants still trickling through

I love this time of year, when Spring is taking hold and birds are on the move.  Every time you go out, there is the hope of seeing something new passing though your bit of the country.  I try and get out as often as I can and pre and post work visits become more frequent.

On April 12th, a pre work visit was greeted with the sight of three Avocets on the near spit.  A scarce bird here, I have only seen two singles before, with the last in October 2014.  The birds appeared to be two males and a female, the two males were squabbling constantly and I observed copulation at one stage.  Unfortunately, I could not spend much time with them as work was beckoning.  However, the birds stayed all day and I was able to see the again in the evening, flying around amongst the gathering gulls.  It's a shame the morning light was so poor.

Jim R had a brief view of a Ring Ouzel later that day at Emmett's, which unfortunately was not seen again and would have been a patch tick for me.

A post work visit to Pump Lane on the 13th didn't give me my hoped for Wheatear, but I did see my first Coal Tit of the year - always a bit of a scarcity on patch.

The 14th, was the first sunny and mild day for a while.  I was out early and notched up 12 Blackcaps (11 singing males), 8 Willow Warblers (7 singing males), but just the 4 Chiffchaffs singing around the lake.  The Cetti's was also singing and there were 7 Common Terns along with the usual two Oystercatchers and two LRPs.

I decided to spend some time at Emmett's in case the Ring Ouzel had reappeared, which unfortunately it hadn't, but did see my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year - a silent bird working its way long a hedge.  On my way back down the hill, I glanced up to see a small falcon powering its way NNW about 50m above the fields.  I watched it through bins and although it was back on, I could see that it was a male Merlin and could just make out the black terminal bar at the tip of the tail.  It veered more northerly and powered on through until lost from view.  Amazing, two migrating Merlins within a couple of weeks of April, with this being only my third.  I hope that the next one lingers a bit more than the previous three!

My usual check of Pump Lane was finally rewarded with my first Wheatear of the year, a nice male, though soon after seeing it perched on the fencing, it flew off and could not be relocated.


One of a few lingering birds
The 15th was also a nice still morning.  I was on patch by 6:30am just as the light mist was lifting.  I spent some time watching and counting the Common Terns.  They never seem to be here first thing, but begin to drift in, so numbers continue to rise through the morning.  I reached 13 birds after some time, but later in the day, my peak was 18 and during the afternoon 24 were counted by Pete S.  Just after 7am, I had checked the riverside meadows and was walking along the south bank when I heard the familiar 'kirrick' call of a Sandwich Tern.  Sure enough, as I scanned the lake, a small line of three birds flew in from the south-east corner.  Its been a great year for this species so far on patch, with three seen flying over on March 17th, then a single on April 9th (which I missed) and now another three.  The birds milled around over the spit for a short time, thinking about landing.  Eventually one did, so I grabbed my camera, but almost immediately, the Common Terns it landed amongst took off, taking the Sandwich with it.  The three Sandwich Terns then flew to the East side.  I hoped that they might land again, but a minute or two later, they flew high out of the south-west corner, calling as they went, never to be seen again and with me failing to capture anything on film (or digital whatever...)

Almost forgot, prior to the terns arriving, I had earlier watched five LRPs on the spit, with much displaying and agro, though two soon flew off leaving the usual three in place.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Scoter Patch Tick!

At the end of my previous post, I had discovered a 2cy Little Gull on the 4th.  Well this lovely little bird was in no hurry to leave and actually stayed for three days, last seen late on the 6th.  Work got in the way of me ever getting a good photo of it, the best I did was this long range effort from the south bank early on the 6th, heavily cropped from about 250m away.  Even so, there is a noticeable pink flush appearing on the underparts.

Dave Parmenter kindly sent over a couple of his flight shots from the 4th and I've posted these below:

On the 5th, the Little Gull was often in the company of my first Common Tern of the year.  Common Tern numbers rose quickly - 2 on the 6th, 7 on the 7th (9 in the evening) and 8 on the 8th.

I did a circuit on the morning of the 7th and there had been an obvious influx of Blackcaps.  I counted 10 singing males and a female.  I also eventually picked up my first Sedge Warbler of the year in the south-east corner.  It had been found the previous day, but had not been singing this morning, si I had to return at midday when it was much more obliging. Five singing Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler made up the warbler count.

The morning of the 8th was yet another damp and murky one.  I arrived at about 7am when it was at least dry, though visibility was poor.  It was soon obvious that nothing new had arrived overnight onto the lake area, however, there were numerous reports of local Kittiwakes and Little Gulls and especially Common Scoters, so there was passage going on.  I decided to stick it out and see whether I might get lucky.  I counted the eight Common Terns over and over again as they move between the sand spit and the east side of the lake.  Then, at 9am, there were suddenly nine terns.  A quick scan through them revealed the newcomer to be a smart Arctic Tern, much cleaner and whiter than the Commons with very long tail streamers.  In the very poor light, my attempts at recording any sort of flight shot were almost impossible, but thankfully after some time, it decided to land on the sand spit, so I grabbed a couple of records at distance.

Looking in the records later, it appears that this is the earliest ever Arctic Tern for Bucks.  Funnily enough, another arrived in the north of the county at Willen Lakes at the same time.

I stayed in the south-east corner watching the terns and watching for other new arrivals.  A pair of Wigeon flew in and around the lake, eventually landing.  This tripled the number on site, as we had been down to a lone male swimming around the new tern rafts.

At 10am, when I should have been leaving, a couple of dumpy, black ducks flew straight past me and out of sight flying towards the south-west corner.  I knew immediately that these were Common Scoters and sent a quick message out on WhatsApp while racing to get a view of where they might have landed.  Common Scoter is very unusual here, there have been several prior records, but none for many years and these were a patch tick for me.  Even in years where they seem to be everywhere, they seem to avoid this place.  Anyway, these two hadn't!  When I reached a spot to view the south-west corner, they weren't there.  I scanned over the whole lake and found that they had doubled back and had landed on the east side, a nice male and female.  So, back to the south-east corner.  The birds were never particularly close, they always seem to find a way to be in the centre of the water, as far from the banks as possible.  This plus the awful light conditions meant that getting record shots was a bit tricky, so I have enhanced it a bit to try and get some colour.

Very pleased with this patch tick, I overstayed my allotted time by quite a bit and waited until someone else arrived, which turned out to be Jim R, some 45 minutes later.  After some more watching and chatting I eventually tore myself away and went home for a very late breakfast, more like lunch really!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

An eventful week

Well despite the lousy weather, the intrepid summer migrants are still pushing northwards and I've managed to see some of them as they've stopped off on patch.

On March 28th, a morning visit in rain turned up 11 Sand Martins, with flocks of 9 and 2 flying through, 22 Snipe feeding out in the open, which they seem to do more often in the rain and the continuing pair of Goldeneye.

I also had time to visit the roost in the evening. I met Kevin H in the car park on his way out and we chatted for a few minutes before I left for the lake.  Just a couple of minutes later and before I had even reached the lakeside, the familiar 'ding' of an incoming WhatsApp message came through - 'Barn Owl just flown down the concrete road and over the back of the cottages' from Kevin....what! I quickly turned, looking around me, I was just the other side of the cottages and where the owl should now be wasn't! I returned to Kevin and we walked around trying to refind it, to no avail. How unlucky was that!  Funnily enough, a few weeks earlier, I had seen something white, at distance, flash across in front of the vicarage, but wasn't even sure it was a bird a the time - there are workmen there and I thought it may have been connected to them, but it may also have been a Barn Owl.  Hopefully, if one is around and is feeding early to maybe feed young, then it will be seen again.

The roost was quite small, but a nice 1st winter Caspian Gull came in, though promptly flew to the far eastern side of the lake with other large gulls, so no photo.  A sharp hail storm also brought down a flock of 18 Wigeon, which have been notable by their early departure from this site this year.

On the 29th, I had a wander about, but didn't see too much.  However, the pair of Goldeneye were still present, so I managed some better shots of them.  There was a noisy feeding flock of 12 Siskins in the south bank alders and still small numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare about.  I also took a photo of a Red-legged Partridge, which is a fairly frequent sight on patch, in complete contrast to my old patch of Dinton Pastures, where I have never seen one, but one is apparently hanging out there at the moment.  I must make the effort to go and see it!

By March 30th, the kids were off on Easter holidays, so my birding over the bank holiday weekend was in the first couple of hours of the morning whilst everyone was still in bed.

There were 23 Sand Martins flying over the east side and the continuing pair of Goldeneye and Little Grebe.  However, my best bird of the morning was a beast of a 1st winter Caspian Gull.  I watched it fly in on its own at c9am and for a while, it was the only large gull on site.  I think, based on plumage and structure that most of the 1st winter Caspian Gulls I have seen this year have been different birds.  I have had six sightings and reckon there have been four or five different birds involved.  Today's bird was definitely a new one and a bit of a beast, presumably a male.

Unfortunately, my time ran out and I didn't have time to do a circuit of the lake, which was a shame, as a singing Willow Warbler was found on the east side later in the day.

Best bird of the 31st was an Osprey.  At 8:15am, I looked up from the west bank to see a gull like bird flying over eastwards fro the STW.  It was pretty gloomy, but I soon realised that this was no gull, but an Osprey.  It flew over the spit, then veered northwards and disappeared over the poplars at the base of the spit.  Only my fourth patch Osprey and only the second actually over the lake, so a nice one to get.  My single record last year was on March 29th, so a similar date, but as ever with this species, you just need to be there at the right time, because they are over in a flash and don't hang about.  I managed one poor record shot, but it is just about recognisable!

Whilst on the east bank, I also saw my first Raven of the year as a bird flew in fro the north-west and then followed the south bank eastwards.  Other birds of note were a flock of 25 Sand Martins over the east side, but still no other hirundine species, 3 LRPs, 2 Oystercatchers, the continuing pair of Goldeneye and a singing Cetti's Warbler.

On April 1st, I picked up my first Willow Warbler singing on the east side.  This was presumably the bird from the 30th, though I failed to pick anything up on the 31st.

The 2nd brought my first Swallow of the year, flying over the east side with about 40 Sand Martins.  Whilst watching these birds from the east side, I binned a flock of three gulls flying away from me westwards.  As I did so, I picked up an even more distant small raptor flying steadily northish, probably more north-east, it was very distant, probably west of the STW.  My first sight of its flight style was a quick flap, flap, flap, glide and I assumed that it was probably a Sparrowhawk.  However, it was intriguing.  I knew that I needed to see it through the scope.  I kept following it with my bins to get its flight path and eventually got it in the scope.  By this stage it had just started a couple of circles and I could see that it wasn't a Sparrowhawk at all, but a falcon with dark brown uppers.  I was pretty sure by now that I was watching a migrating Merlin.  It finished its two circles and then powered off on the same trajectory with very fast and powerful looking wing beats until I lost it from view behind trees.  Not the best of views for plumage, but a small falcon with such a distinctive flight style couldn't be mistaken for anything else on these views.  Well pleased with that and just my second on patch following last December's fly past at dusk.

Other birds seen were the continuing pair of Goldeneye, a singing Willow Warbler on the east side, a Water Rail in the south-east corner and now two Little Grebes on the east side.

Hot on the heels of the Swallow, the 3rd brought my first House Martin.  As usual at this time of year, it was flying over the east side in the hirundine flock with at least three Swallows and 30 Sand Martins.  The last couple of years, I have had all three of the hirundine migrants in March, so a bit later than that, which is not too surprising given the weather, but its not that much later, they're all still trying to get here (for some reason!).  I also had three singing Blackcaps, a single Willow Warbler and eight singing Chiffchaffs - not too bad for April 3rd.  The pair of Goldeneye remained, though this would prove to be their last day and 23 Wigeon were seen, 16 flew over south, but seven were on deck.  The most numerous duck, as usual in early April, was Shoveler.  I counted 66, but from a bad vantage point, there were probably more.

I was out by 7am on April 4th and conditions were nice, a light south-south, westerly and clearish skies with light cloud.  I checked the flood meadows, which are quite extensive following the heavy rain which has raised the Thames and broken its bank by Coldmoorholm Lane.  It was strange to see Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard and Coot along with the usual Greylags and Canadas on this meadow.  Also a single Little Egret.  There were about 20 Common Gulls as well, but that was about it.  I decided to watch from the south bank to see if anything was moving.  At c7:40am, the loud gun shot sounds of the nearby bird scarer went off (really frustrating!) and the Common Gulls flew over my head towards the spit.  However, I could also see a small gull with them and sure enough a 2cy Little Gull was flying with them.  This has not been with them earlier, so I suppose it just happened to be flying up river when the scarer went off.  Anyway, it did a couple of circuits of the lake and then flew back out towards the river a few minutes later.  I took a couple of ropey shots just for the record and assumed that that was that, as it hadn't reappeared an hour later.  However, it can't have gone far, as by 10:40am, Jim R had picked it up again over the east side and there it remained into the afternoon.  Similarities in its tatty wings showed it to be the same bird.  Still a scarce bird here, though this is my second record this year, however, all my other records have been of adult birds apart from another 2cy on 6th April 2005.

The last bird wasn't new for the year, but I am now on 106 for the year out of 111 for the patch.  I have missed a couple of Pintail records from January, Coal Tit, the recent Barn Owl, Common Tern that was seen late on the 2nd and a couple of brief Curlews seen by Pete S yesterday, 3rd.  Shaping up to be another good year here :)