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 :)

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